Category Archives: Reviews

Rev-ved up on BBC2

Aahhh – the beautiful Tom Hollander.

Last night, the much anticipated second series of ‘Rev’ was shown on BBC2.  Hollander plays a young vicar, Adam Smallbone, who has relocated from a rural parish to Hackney in the East End of London.  Rev. Smallbone is an ordinary person, an ordinary man.  Not a comedy vicar like Dawn French, Ardal O’Hanlon or Derek Nimmo, but a kind and humorous man who is riddled with self doubt, who makes mistakes, and who truly cares about his parishioners and believes he can make a difference, however ill-judged some of his endeavours turn out to be.

I won’t tell you the plot of the first episode because I really, really want you to watch it on iPlayer/Catch Up etc and then continue to watch the rest of the series avidly. I will tell you though, that there is a striking cameo by Ralph Fiennes as the Bishop of London, and Hugh Bonneville appears as a white suited, ambitious and worldy colleague.

His wife Alex (Olivia Colman) has her own career as a solicitor and she really struggles with the 24-hour nature of his vocation.  She loves him so much but desperately wants to spend time with him alone and is keen to start a family but, as she points out to him, ”You don’t shag me enough.”

Some of Smallbone’s finest moments are when he is sitting on the bench outside the church, fag in hand, discussing his problems with the local drunk, who frequently offers a weird kind of sanity.  He is out of his depth, burdened with a shrinking congregation, a crumbling building and a dysfunctional but devoted support team.  And yet, as in all his roles, there is a beauty and stillness to the character which takes your breath away.

I have never seen Hollander in a duff role.  Everything he does has depth and conviction whether he’s George V in ‘The Lost Prince’, the cold and calculating Beckett in ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ or the flamboyant Darren in ‘Bedrooms and Hallways’.

And he’s really, really gorgeous. Which is nice.

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Filed under Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, The Gallery

The Two Minute Review – 14: Tin Tin

Film:                Tin Tin : The Secret of the Unicorn

Starring:         Jamie Bell, Andy Serkis,
Daniel Craig, Nick Frost,
Simon Pegg

Director:          Steven Spielberg

This film had me totally hooked before the end of the title sequence, which is one of the best I’ve seen in years.  The motion capture technology leaves you gasping, the music is so good you’ll want it on DVD and my sister and I sat there oo-ing and aah-ing all the way through.  This is a tale of high adventure; a worrying accurate portrayal of a drunken sea  captain, the charmingly inept Thompson Twins and some fabulous little plot ‘extras’ which serve only to delight.  The story is full of thrills and twists and yet remains as light as a feather and you will come out feeling thoroughly entertained.  The opening scenes show Tin Tin at a street market with Snowy, and the lusciousness of the detail and a lovely moment with a street artist are so satisfying you could cry.  I wanted to go straight back in to see it again.

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The Two Minute Review – 13: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Actually, this took three minutes - what a betrayal.

When I saw the trailer for this in the cinema, I got very excited.  It looked full of thrills, star-studded cast, spies, 60s Britain – can’t go wrong with this.  However, I spent most of the film staring, bewildered, at the screen, trying to work out what the bloody hell was going on.  The time frame skipped backwards and forwards like Red Riding Hood on acid, there was a significant party, someone got shot, John Hurt sellotaped photographs to chess pieces.  At one point Smiley inexplicably went to the optician  and apparently this was a critical pointer to where we were in time – one pair of glasses = this time, another indistinguishably similar pair  indicated another time.  I was half expecting a montage of Smiley’s personal care regime – Smiley goes to the chiropodist, Smiley goes to the barber.  My friend, Mrs Cecil, told me that it was a story about personal love and betrayal.  Oh.

The cars were good.

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The Two Minute Review – 12: Johnny English Reborn

Film:            Johnny English Reborn

Starring:     Rowan Atkinson, Dominic West,
Rosamund Pike, Gillian Anderson,
Tim McInnery, Daniel Kaluuya

Director:     Oliver Parker

I was prepared for this to be a poor copy of the first, but actually I’m not sure that it wasn’t even funnier.  English has been out of commission (leading a spiritual life in Tibet) for five years following a massive cock-up in Mozambique but he gets called in to investigate a plot to kill the Chinese Premier. He has a new sidekick, Agent Tucker, who is very young and slightly in awe of him, but nonetheless has his eye on the ball and there are some great jokes about his youth.  The stunts are terrific and Boy the Younger and I both laughed our heads off all the way through.  English may be an idiot in many ways but he is possessed of the qualities which we most admire;  loyalty, patriotism, determination and kindness.  We loved it.

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The Big Bang Theory

L-R: Sheldon, Howard, Rajesh and Leonard

For ages I got really annoyed because in the vast wilderness of the TV schedules I kept thinking there was an interesting science programme on, only to find that it was some American comedy. Oh how I wished I’d taken the time to watch it.

The Big Bang Theory is now on every evening, two back-to-back episodes at 6pm on E4, and it doesn’t matter what mood I’m, it has me laughing out loud.

The basic premise is that there are two hyper-intelligent physicists, Leonard and Sheldon who share a flat in Pasadena.  They have two friends, Howard and Rajesh who are also brilliant physicists and they all work at the California Institute of Technology.  There is also a lovely, kooky girl called Penny who lives across the hallway and works in a Cheesecake cafe but who aspires to be an actress.

Sheldon is a theoretical physicist who gained his PhD at 16 and who is clearly somewhere quite high up on the Asperger’s spectrum;  he is obsessed with routine, finds interpersonal relationships bewildering, cannot distinguish irony or subtle humour and is generally at sea in any social situation.  Yet his jaw-dropping dialogue is so precise and camp and his unbearably accurate way of talking is so funny it’s painful and one is constantly left gasping at the things he comes out with.

The other three characters are all equally geeky and socially inept but all have their part to play and all are utterly likeable.  Leonard tries so hard to establish relationships, often briefly successfully – at least he has sex from time to time or ‘coitus’ as they all insist on calling it –  and he and Penny treat Sheldon like an indulged child.  He is a relentlessly kind person who struggles to do normal things, whilst his head is full of mind-boggling calculations and mathematical formulae.

Howard is an aerospace engineer and he is the only one of the four of them who actually makes physical stuff.  He is a Jewish boy who lives with his raucous, vulgar mother and there is always an underlying mystery about what happened to his father.  He fancies himself as a bit of a ladies’ man and his attempts to pull and the appalling chat-up lines which he rolls out are, surprisingly, sometimes successful.

Rajesh, a particle astrophysicist, comes from a wealthy New Delhi family.  He freezes in the presence of women and his social anxiety is only suppressed by alcohol or when he thinks he has had alcohol.  His comic timing is impeccable.

These four male characters are everything you would expect from the unnaturally brilliant: geeky, sci-fi and comic book obsessed, socially ill at ease, generally useless with women, whilst Penny provides an anchor point of normality onto which many of the stories are hitched.  But somehow the writers have created characters that you genuinely like and root for.  It ought to be awful but it just isn’t, there’s something about the ‘spirit’ of the thing that has you on the edge of your seat, wondering what on earth they’re going to do next.

I can feel a DVD boxed set coming on.  I have even hovered my mouse over a Bazinga! t-shirt on the Big Bang Theory website.  For my son, of course, hem hem.

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The Two Minute Review – 11: Jane Eyre

Cinema Film:   Jane Eyre

Starring:           Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender,
Jamie Bell, Judi Dench

Director:          Cary Fukanaga

The casting of this film is perfect – at last a Jane who is genuinely plain.  Fassbender as Rochester is so brooding and sexy it makes you weep and it was lovely to see Jamie Bell giving an earnest and convincing performance as StJohn Rivers.  The music was perfectly balanced and the landscape and settings were characterized as strongly as the humans. The cinematography was mind-blowing.

As a lifelong fan of ‘Jane Eyre’ there were scenes that I felt should have been left in and some of the peripheral characters beefed up a bit to give Jane another dimension.  However, this is churlish of me given this astonishing and powerfully restrained performance.  I may go again on Saturday.

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Shire Book of the Month – British Pigs by Val Porter

A clearly smiling Large White

What is it about pigs that singles them out from other farm animals?  Chickens make good noises and lay eggs, sheep are stupid but feel nice, cows are a graphic designer’s wet dream and give us milk and pursuant dairy products, but pigs are different.  Pigs smile at you, they wriggle when you scratch them and, particularly the smaller ones with long noses, are hairy, intelligent looking and you get the feeling that they truly belong in the English landscape.

The Shire Book of British Pigs by Val Porter is a glorious celebration of this animal’s transition from wild boar to domesticated pig. It starts by explaining the basics of pig keeping and the history of farming and gives detailed information about the various breeds and how they come to look as they do.  Most British breeds have, at some point, been cross-bred with Chinese stock which has resulted in the squashed snouts.

Old English pig from 1842

The pictures in this book are so glorious they’ll make you weep; whether they are photographs of existing pigs or paintings and etchings of animals commissioned by proud owners and stockmen from the past.

Like many domestic farm animals, the drive for intensive, high speed farming homogenised pig breeds and had them shut away from public view. In the decades after the war animals were raised in large-scale, purpose built buildings where the only interest was how much bacon, pork and sausages could be made as quickly as possible.

Thanks to the renewed interest in rare breeds, slow food and local farming, there has been a concomitant awareness of animal welfare and pigs are appearing in our fields once again.  The rare breed is making a comeback and it is quite usual to see Tamworths, Gloucester Old Spots, British Saddlebacks and Oxford Sandy and Blacks rootling around happily in the fresh air.

This book also covers the New Pigs on the block.  Pig breeds continue to evolve and the farmers are interested in make the breeds hardier again so that they can manage an outdoor life.  A pig with a fleecy coat is a sight to behold and I wonder how many people were aware of the, now extinct, Lincolnshire Curly Coat?

Pennywell Mini pig - so gorgeous you could just eat them ... except not these because they're pets, tiny enough to fit in Paris Hilton's handbag.

Porter’s clear and appealing writing style draws you in to the life of these delightful animals.  She has written more than forty books about livestock, farming and self-sufficiency and her enthusiasm shines through. If you like pigs, read this book.  If you like eating pigs this book can only enhance your gastronomic experience.

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Filed under Animals, Livestock, Poetry, Literature, Music and Art, Reviews, Shire Books