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World on Fire: Episode #1.4 (2019)
Logic failing the script again
There is no doubt that World On Fire has had a handsome amount of money thrown at it, but one wishes that an equal amount of effort could have been put in to making the storylines logical. In episode three, the character of Tom was portrayed as being involved in a naval battle that he could not possibly have been present at, on a ship - the HMS Exeter - that he could not have served in. In this episode, the two Polish soldiers on the run have somehow managed to find their way across Europe from Poland to France (through a snow-covered forest in May), and met up with a contingent of British troops there. There is no explanation in the script about how they could have possibly achieved this. Are we meant to assume that they walked across two German borders and through the front lines of the German offensive in France? If the writers want us to believe in the storylines of this drama, then they should at least give the viewers some credit for knowing what was, and wasn't, possible for their characters to do in the first year of the Second World War.
World on Fire: Episode #1.3 (2019)
There is a lot wrong with this drama series but this episode really underlines the failure of the writers to properly research the history of the Second World War. Tom Bennett, the waster who decides to join up after the outbreak of war, is shown as being a crew member on the HMS Exeter at the Battle Of The River Plate in December 1939. There is no way that a raw naval recruit could have been aboard that ship just a couple of months after joining the Royal Navy! It was already fully crewed and stationed in the West Atlantic before the outbreak of war. The ship did not return to Britain for repairs and new crew replacements until February 1940. Similarly, it is highly unlikely that Harry Chase would have been a commissioned officer in the BEF in France just a couple of months after joining the army. The BEF consisted mainly of regulars and reservists in 1939 - not new recruits. This is sloppy story-writing on the part of the makers of World On Fire.
The War of the Worlds (2019)
Why meddle with a classic?
News that a new screen version of HG Wells' classic sci-fi/horror novel The War Of The Worlds would finally be set in roughly the right time and place for the story (Victorian/Edwardian England) was most welcome, after so many dismal attempts to set it in later years, or even other countries. The story, after all, was intended to shock out of their complacency people who were living in what was then the world's biggest and most powerful empire. The message was "what if there was something even bigger and more powerful and more deadly than us?"
That said, the production values are great, the special effects excellent, and the brooding, haunting atmosphere of the alien and unknown permeates the story as it should.
Sadly though, the screenwriter and producers just couldn't resist the temptation to insert their 21st century sensibilities into a late Victorian story. So, instead of an ordinary husband and wife of their time separated by a cataclysm, we get an unmarried couple rebelling against the norms of Victorian society by openly living together - and then being separated. Add to that a heartless and unforgiving elder brother of the main character, plus an equally unforgiving and bitter deserted wife, and much of the first half hour to an hour is wasted on a completely unnecessary and irritating sub-plot. Granted, the producers may well have been eager to enhance the role of the wife beyond that in the novel - but that could have been just as easily achieved by simply showing her own fight for survival when separated from her husband. But that wasn't enough for the writers. They had Eleanor Tomlinson in that role, so they wanted Poldark's Demelza in the character. And, of course, the men in the story must be shown to behave so chauvinistically towards her that they deserve the inevitable slap-downs.
The other distraction to the story is the strange jumping forwards and backwards in time. This not only destroys the pace of the story but also undoes the suspense to a huge degree. We need to see how bad things can get in progression as the forces of the British Empire are overwhelmed by the alien invasion - not to be shown how it ends and then shown in stages how it got to the end point.
H G Wells' story included brief hopes of a fightback against the enemy, followed by repeated defeat and despair, and that's what is needed to keep us invested in the narrative.
I will watch the series to the end but unfortunately that end will have been signalled far too soon to anyone who has never read Wells' original work. I also fear we will have even more gratuitous social lessons thrust at us from our own time and society. Such a shame that they couldn't have just left the story alone to tell itself.
Dad's Army: Everybody's Trucking (1974)
The turning point for Dad's Army
If there was a point at which this wonderful and fondly-remembered TV comedy began to show its age, it was in this first episode of the seventh series. Tragically, James Beck (Private Walker) had passed away during the previous series and it proved impossible to replace him.
But something else happened that was barely noticeable at first - Arthur Lowe seemed to lose some of his enthusiasm for Captain Mainwaring. Strangely, the warmth left his character and he became more of a martinet than a leader of men. Some of his best catch-phrases lost their punch and his inimitable "slow burn" responses to frustrating situations were nowhere near as funny as they used to be. Whether or not Lowe thought that perhaps Dad's Army was in danger of going on too long, there was a clear decline in the quality of the show, and the storylines began to struggle for laughs.
Fans will stay loyal to the series to the end - but perhaps the end should have come just a little sooner before all the older actors began to show their real age.
History, but not as we know it.
I think that Queen Victoria's life was dramatic and colourful enough without the writer of this series re-imagining historic events to elevate the Queen's reputation even further. This episode, set in the 1848 "Year of Revolutions" across Europe supposedly has Victoria personally and defiantly giving orders to her ministers to defuse the tension of the Chartists' march of April 10. In reality, the Queen and the Royal Family had already been packed off to the Isle Of Wight two days before the march took place. The marchers were not met by armed troops on Waterloo Bridge but by police and special constables on Westminster Bridge. It was not the Duke Of Wellington who gave the instruction to let the marchers pass, but London Police Commissioner Richard Mayne, who negotiated for the Chartist leaders to take their petition to Parliament across Westminster Bridge in three hired hansom cabs, while the bulk of the crowd remained behind. The whole event fizzled out in pouring rain and the demonstrators dispersed by 2pm. Increasingly, the series Victoria should be seen as entertainment - not history.
Secrets of the Magna Carta (2017)
Political propaganda dressed up as historical documentary.
This is, without a doubt, one of the most piteously shallow and blatant pieces of modern-day political propaganda that I have had the misfortune to watch. The title promises a revelation of some supposed "secrets" of the famous and history-changing 1215 English document of rights called the Magna Carta. It does no such thing - because there are no secrets. Anyone who has read and studied that document and the times and circumstances in which it was created will know this.
Instead, what we get from this supposed "documentary" is little more than a right-wing polemic that could have been written by the Tea Party faction of the US Republican Party. The message is as simplistic and self-serving as it could possibly be: America is great, all free enterprise is good, and all government is bad. Government exists purely to steal all your rights and tax all your wealth (boo-hiss, nasty evil Government!), whereas unbridled and unfettered free enterprise will guarantee your freedom, wealth and happiness - because the Magna Carta says so.
There were many statements and claims in this once-over-lightly view of American and world history that screamed out to be challenged and questioned. But, for me, one of the most sickening views came with its brief mention of the Second World War and the claim that, in order to make the guns, tanks and planes that the US needed to fight and win, American private industry had to be allowed to make profits. As it turned out, American private industry made huge profits from the Second World War - including some US automotive giants whose European subsidiaries actually produced armaments for Nazi Germany while the Luftwaffe was bombing the very home of the Magna Carta!
In the end, this programme is not about the Magna Carta, or any supposed "secrets" that document might contain. It is nothing more than a blatant exploitation of the 800th anniversary of the creation of that document to push a modern-day political agenda.
The Magna Carta was a far greater contribution to democracy than the people behind this piece of dross could ever imagine. This is a shameful piece of work.
Blue Planet II (2017)
I watched the first installment of Blue Planet II with high hopes last night and it was everything I had hoped for. Once again, the BBC/David Attenborough-led team of international wildlife photographers has come up with a sensational piece of television documentary-making - updating and enriching the theme of the original Blue Planet series 10 years ago. You might think you could not be any more entranced by pods of dolphins swimming, until you see the spectacular footage of them surfing for pleasure in huge waves. And to then see a large pod of dolphins rendezvous with another species in a way never seen before, shows us that this is indeed a new way of looking at nature. I will be glued to the rest of the series to see just how much more the latest underwater filming techniques can show us about the seas - but also to hear the salient warning about how badly we are wrecking this Blue Planet of ours. I suggest the BBC make a gift of a boxed set of this series to every national leader on Earth - with a message that says: the future of all this is in YOUR hands.
Inside Windsor Castle (2017)
More soap opera than documentary
When I saw the announcement that a documentary series was to be made about Windsor Castle, I hoped that it would be a serious historical examination of a famous castle that has been at the centre of English royal history for nearly a thousand years and remains the home of the current monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. How wrong I was. Instead of a serious, professionally-made history documentary, the producers have served up nothing more than a salacious, shallow, tabloid-style review of the Windsor family and Elizabeth II's reign. This series was not so much taken from the annals of history as cut- and-pasted from a century of muck-raking gossip column headlines. The script sounds like it was written by a committee of celebrity scandal magazine editors, and the various invented scenes that supposedly show the private lives of the Windsors are played out as wordless, amateur theatrical melodramas by incredibly badly-cast and badly-directed "lookalikes". There is nothing here for the serious student of history but plenty for the avid consumer of royal scandal and tittle-tattle. Don't waste your time with this.
How to ruin a science documentary
For a science and history documentary series with an obviously huge budget, Origins: The Journey Of Humankind does just about everything it can to ruin itself. There is obviously some genuinely fascinating information in here but it has been drowned in Hollywood melodrama. With ridiculously over-the-top historical re-enactments, including silly and unconvincing "pre-historic" scenes, relentlessly pounding music all the way through, and Jason Silva wildly over-acting his three-camera presentation, this smacks of a production by people who think their audience is so dull and short on attention span that they need history explained to them as a sci-fi adventure movie. It doesn't inform as much as it irritates. What a waste of an opportunity to explore history.
What on Earth? (2015)
Television for the gullible
There are some TV shows that make you want to put your fist through the screen and this is one of them. The Discovery Channel does itself no favours with this wildly over-hyped "science" series and, in fact, probably does its credibility a lot of damage. The concept? Take some normal satellite images of unusual shapes and colours on the face of the Earth, add lots of zoom-swish sound effects, breathlessly amazed commentary by a bunch of "experts" and then imagine every half-baked wild-eyed mystery theory you can think of before you finally reveal the perfectly logical explanation that a whole bunch of locals knew about all along. Only the truly gullible would fall for this kind of tripe. Sadly, it appears that's what the Discovery Channel thinks of its viewers. I would give it a zero out of 10 if I could but the count doesn't go that low. I have to ask: Is this how Americans really view the world outside their own borders?
A series too far
Sadly, this is where Are You Being Served? suffered the fate of all David Croft comedies in running on long after inspiration was winded. The earlier departure of Arthur Borough as Mr Grainger and the failed attempts to replace him firstly with James Hayter and then Alfie Bass should have been the signal that things were becoming tired. The wholesale replacements of three characters in series eight was the beginning of a slow slide downhill. Just as with the legendary Dad's Army, 'Allo 'Allo and Hi-De-Hi, Are You Being Served? should have quit while it was ahead and left better memories. As the old showbiz saying goes: "Always leave them wanting more".
Father Ted (1995)
An Irish All Gas And Gaiters?
I'm a huge fan of Father Ted and most of the praise I would give this anarchic, wildly inventive comedy has already been written by other reviewers. But recently, I was struck by the show's great similarity to an old popular BBC sitcom of the late 1960s called All Gas And Gaiters. The main difference was that AGAG was set in an Anglican country parish, but all the same elements are there: A senior priest in the vicarage, a doddery old bishop who likes his drink too much and a young, naïve and accident-prone novice priest. Also, there is the ever-present and domineering Dean who tries to keep the trio in line. Could it be that the writers of Father Ted were simply updating this old English comedy for a modern and more open-minded audience? If so, they did a wonderful job of it, as Father Ted is a classic.
Foyle's War (2002)
First class drama with one nagging flaw
I was an early fan of Foyle's War, especially Michael Kitchen's portrayal of the title character, which is a master class in fine nuance and understatement. The way Kitchen can convey a wealth of meaning with the slightest glance or change in tone when speaking is wonderful to watch. It's almost as if he was born to play this character. Also, the whole concept of police work having to continue as normally as possible in a time of war is intriguing. In many ways, the job would have been so much harder with the backdrop of war and the resultant shortage of resources and increase in disruption. It was a fine idea from the start. Having said that, I found as the series went on and I began to review earlier episodes that something about it had begun to irritate me, and I eventually realised that it was the way in which most of the other characters - apart from Foyle's own inner circle - were portrayed as uniformly negative. Granted, this is a crime and murder-mystery series, so Foyle is dealing primarily with criminals and red-herring characters. But sometimes, it seems as though the writer Anthony Horowitz wants us to believe everyone in wartime Britain was either rotten to the core or afflicted with moral cowardice. No doubt not everyone displayed the "bulldog spirit" that got the nation through those difficult years - every country at war has its share of defeatists, shirkers and traitors - but Horowitz seemed unwilling to allow that positive determined quality in any of his "guest" characters, whether major or minor in the story. This is especially true of anyone in a position of authority. Just about every single person that Foyle deals with who holds rank or official status is portrayed in varying degrees as arrogant, callous, treacherous, obstructive or incompetent - sometimes a combination of these. It's as though Horowitz wants us to think that either Britain's entire wartime leadership was working against its own national interests or that there was never a sense of righteousness in the fight against Nazism. Foyle's War sometimes seemed to be against his own government and his own superiors. On the odd occasion this might have been a useful plot device, but was it necessary for it to be such a constant theme? I can't help wondering what the motive was for this, but I do know that over time it began to spoil my enjoyment of the show.
Foyle's War: Casualties of War (2007)
An illogical plot
Of all the Foyle's War episodes, I felt that this was one of the weakest and, as usual, was heavily dependent on Michael Kitchen's flawless performance as Foyle. I think the writer Anthony Horowitz should never have misappropriated the story of Barnes Wallis and the "Bouncing Bomb" for this episode. The Wallis/Bouncing Bomb/Dambusters story is too real and too famous to be used in such a way and surely Horowitz could have invented any kind of fictional secret weapon project to tell the story. Having done this, he added insult by portraying his version of Barnes Wallis as a moral coward taking the credit for someone else's work. There were other glaring flaws in the plot: If the weapon was being developed for a Royal Air Force raid, why was the project under the control of the Royal Navy? How could a supposedly top-secret weapon project be left with absolutely no security, to the point that two teenage criminals could simply walk into the building in broad daylight, see everything and threaten the scientists with blackmail? The ending, too, actually counted against Foyle's character. In wartime, many people were forced into making difficult choices and uncomfortable compromises for the sake of winning the war, and they had to live with those choices whether they liked it or not. Foyle, on the other hand, seemed to feel that his perfect principles outweighed the national interest. He was determined to pursue his case even if it threatened the war effort and, when he found that he couldn't, he resigned and walked away, condemning those who were left to bear the responsibility for what happened. Not everyone in wartime could enjoy such luxury of choice. For me, this undermined Foyle's character.
Anzac Girls (2014)
Anzac drama falls short of the mark
I had high hopes for this series at the beginning but those hopes were progressively dashed as it went on. Obviously a lot of money was spent on it but much more should have been spent on the script and acting. Much of it came across as wooden and forced, and seemed to be trying too hard to idolise the nurses the series portrayed, instead of showing them as real people in an extraordinary situation. By episode four, the relentless romantic interludes had become boring, and any factual or historic features in the script nearly had signposts shouting IMPORTANT HISTORIC FACT COMING UP! The anti-British message was delivered with a sledgehammer at every opportunity, as was the emphasis on how wonderful it is to be Australian. All in all, a missed opportunity, I think. It was the sort of thing that Australian television made in the 1980s - not what it should be making in 2015.
Frozen Planet (2011)
Absolutely brilliant work
I was looking forward to this BBC series and I was not in any way disappointed. The work that went in to bringing us these wonderful visions of the polar regions is amazing. Thankfully, in New Zealand, we saw the David Attenborough-narrated version as it was meant to be. No disrespect to Alec Baldwin, who narrated the US version, but Sir David has been there and done that in wildlife film-making for the best part of 60 years. He KNOWS what he's talking about. I'm very aware of the "controversy" that surrounds the seventh episode titled On Thin Ice, and the apparent reluctance of US TV to show it because it deals with climate change. My advice is: don't let anyone tell you that this is a piece of climate change propaganda. It's not. It simply lays out the facts in a non-judgmental way and backs them up with historical photography and clear satellite imagery. Watch it and make up your own mind.
An intensely irritating display of US nationalism.
I remember watching this mini-series the first time in 1984 with a growing sense of anger and indignation. Having read the comments on this title, I must agree with those from the people in Greece. This was produced to coincide with the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games and, to me, it seemed like nothing more than an exercise in jingoistic, flag-waving American nationalism in which the American athletes are glorified at everyone else's expense. Some other nationalities would have every right to feel deeply insulted at the way they were portrayed in this series. It may, however, help to explain the way in which many American spectators behaved at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and the TV coverage which seemed only interested in events that Americans were likely to win.
Strange re-write of New Zealand history.
This drama series just didn't work for me at all. If you are trying to write historical drama, then your task is to dramatise historical events. If, however, you are trying to write historical fiction then you must set your fictional story against a genuine and well-researched historical background.
Greenstone, a cross-cultural love story supposedly set in 19th century New Zealand, followed neither of these basic rules and ended up losing the plot altogether.
The writers apparently wanted to write an "epic" story with a cast of easily-identifiable villains (arrogant, imperialist English) and victims/heroes (noble Maori, oppressed Irish) but shot themselves in the foot by inventing a false history of New Zealand to suit the story they wanted to tell. As a result, the story had no credibility.
I don't understand the writers' motives in doing this. Were they trying to invent a new history of New Zealand to suit a modern political agenda? Or could they simply not be bothered to research their subject properly? Whatever their motives, it didn't work. And a golden opportunity to create a truly believable historical TV drama about 19th Century New Zealand was lost.
That's a shame because New Zealand TV struggles to fund major drama series at the best of times. And a wasted opportunity like this doesn't help matters.
Not clever enough
The first episode of Primeval went to air in New Zealand last night and I'm afraid I'm joining the "disappointed" team. I was looking forward to this as a fan of British TV but it quickly lost my vote, and not just because it looks like a cross between Jurassic Park and Stargate. That wouldn't have been a problem if the writers and director had shown any degree of patience with their plot. Instead, they rushed headlong into the story as if in fear of the viewers getting away if they stopped for breath. So there was no tension, no build-up, no clever mind games with the viewer and, by the end of the first fifteen minutes, we already knew far too much - as did the characters. And what the characters discovered didn't scare them anywhere near enough. The main ones are supposed to be serious scientists but they were far too ready to accept things that should have thrown their world-view into chaos. Big, scary creature? Well, clearly it's a dinosaur that's somehow found its way into the present day. Oh, look - big sparkly thing in the forest. It must be a space-time anomaly. We've all heard about those! And yes, let's go through the big sparkly thing despite the fact that we have absolutely no idea what it will do to us or what, if anything, is on the other side. (At least Stargate had the nous to send a mechanical probe through first). And the scenes with the boy were just plain lazy and crude. A dinosaur manages to track the boy right back to his bedroom in suburban England and then proceeds to smash its way through his window and wreck his room without anyone in the other houses noticing. And when his mother comes up to tell the boy off for making so much noise, she doesn't even bother to ask how the bedroom window frame came to be smashed to pieces! Pu-lease! Yes, I know that sci-fi demands a suspension of disbelief but good sci-fi doesn't insult your intelligence along the way. What it should do is challenge your imagination. Primeval doesn't do that - at least not for the adult viewer - so I won't be tuning in next week.
The Poseidon Adventure (2005)
It didn't sink soon enough.
I think the writing was on the wall for this turkey when they named the captain of the ship after the author of the original novel and then had him shot in the back. As an earlier commentator has pointed out, the best line in the whole thing came right at the end: "It's a bloody mess".
Some say this version shouldn't be compared to the original movie but you can't help it when the title, the basic plot, many of the characters and even some of the scenes are identical. It's as though the makers of this version never understood what made the original so entertaining and figured they could do better. They couldn't - and didn't.
Apart from the bad script, bad acting and bad directing, this film demanded far too much suspension of disbelief to be a straight drama. Those responsible should have gone down with the ship.