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Non-Review Review: Horrible Histories – The Movie: Rotten Romans

Horrible Histories – The Movie: Rotten Romans is essentially a feature-length pantomime, and works best on those terms.

Horrible Histories is an adaptation of a popular series of children’s (teenager’s) books that aim to explore history through an unconventional lens, providing a somewhat grittier and more tongue-in-cheek accounting of the historical record than those found in school books. They are immensely popular, and have existed long enough to have a cross-generational appeal. It is entirely possible that many parents bringing their children to see Horrible Histories will themselves have read one or two of the source books.

Sharp satire?

Naturally, Horrible Histories is not the first attempt to adapt the books for a broader audience. The BBC adapted the series to television a decade ago, attracting a wide range of comedic talent to bring the show’s unique perspective to life; the series included figures like Alice Lowe, Simon Farnaby, Al Murray, Mark Gattiss, David Badiel and Chris Addison. The series was beloved, even featuring satirical musical numbers. Its influence lived on in specials like the BBC’s centenary rap battle marking the start of the First World War.

Horrible Histories largely eschews a lot of the talent responsible for the television series, although it does make room for a few cameos. However, the film is at its strongest when it embraces the source material’s irreverent playfulness. Ironically, the film suffers when it tries to weave a conventional narrative into this structure.

“Our problems are legion.”

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To Play the King (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. Read my thoughts on the service here, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

You’ve got the King against the Prime Minister, the Lords against the Commons. The bishops are in now, you’ve got “don’t blame the royals”, and – in particular – you’ve got Urquhart’s plan to bring down the monarchy for good and all. And they’ve all played the personal morality card. Every one of them. Which means, in my book, that everybody’s private life is now up for grabs. And I mean everybody’s!

– Sir Bruce Bullerby sums it up

The second part of the House of Cards trilogy has some fairly interesting subject matter. While Francis Urquharts Machiavellian rise to power was enough to ground the first four-part serial, it does occasionally feel like To Play The King has just a bit too much going on. Of course, Andrew Davies’ tight scripting ensures that all the necessary subplots are tidied up before we reach the end credits of the final episode, but things do occasionally feel just a little bit too packed. Still, it’s hard to blame a television show for having too much substance, and there’s a compelling issue at the heart of To Play The King, as novelist Michael Dodds takes the opportunity to explore Britain’s constitutional monarchy, and the possibility of friction that a proactive King might present.

A crowning accomplishment for the BBC?

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Friends & Crocodiles (Review)

The wonderful folks at the BBC have given me access to their BBC Global iPlayer for a month to give the service a go and trawl through the archives. I’ll have some thoughts on the service at the end of the month, but I thought I’d also take the opportunity to enjoy some of the fantastic content.

Stephen Poliakoff is regarded as one of the best British film, theatre and television writers working today. In 2006, the writer and director produced two television movies linked by character and by theme. While Gideon’s Daughter is perhaps the more successful of the two, Friends & Crocodilesremains an interesting – if not consistently satisfying – viewing experience. While it doesn’t have as strong a cast as its companion piece, I think it covers more interesting ground, and feels a tad more ambitious, even if it does succumb to the same awkwardness in places.

Dealing with his inner Damians...

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Luther: Series 1 (Review)

You know, when I wonder why Irish television can’t produce quality drama, I am not looking across the pond towards our American cousins. I realise the sheer scale of the economy and the entertainment industry over there means that any possible point of comparison is just absurd. While the Great Britain is considerably larger, I look at the BBC and wonder why Irish television can’t even be nearly as good as that. After all, we have produced more than our fair share of Nobel laureates for literature, produce great artists, writers and actors in numbers quite disproportionate to our side. And I can’t point to a single Irish television show that is any way iconic – but perhaps that’s too much to expect.

Why can’t we even have something half as good as Luther?

I think he just copped it...

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