Once upon a time you could watch television or go to the cinema. If you loved a film, chances are you would never see it again, unless it ended up on television. If you missed an episode of your favourite serial, that was it, gone for ever. The advent of video machines changed everything; you could go to Blockbusters and rent a video of your favourite film to watch at home. If you were going out or did shift work you could record your favourite programme and come home to find you had pressed the wrong channel…
Since then viewing has become far more complicated and gone are the days when everyone watched the Sunday night drama and talked about it on Monday. Catch up, iplayer, fire sticks, boxes of all sorts, Netflix, cables and satellites; gigantic screen televisions down to watching programmes on your phone; take your pick. But a good film, comedy or television drama still stands out.
I love a good comedy. We don’t have Netflix, but we know someone who does and the fact that they moved thousands of miles away doesn’t seem to have stopped us using it. So we have been catching up with ‘The Letdown’, the hilarious and realistic Australian portrayal of parenthood. If you have ever had a baby or there are new babies in the family you will recognise the scenarios. Gone are the days of sitting bored and lonely in the dark watches of the night, feeding a baby who is very cuddly, but not intellectually stimulating. Modern breastfeeding mothers are on their smart phones exchanging sympathy with sleepless mums all over the world and probably looking up the latest advice on the many Facebook support groups. The downside is that new parents are under pressure more than ever to do the right thing, whatever that is. If you get the chance, join Audrey as she meets other mothers and thinks they are all doing it better than her…
We have finally caught up with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. After seeing it reviewed on one of our favourite film programmes, knowing it was co-financed by Film4Productions, I was confident it was my sort of film, even though I don’t like films with lots of swearing and violence. The next day, talking about cinema with a friend, I mentioned there was a film coming out that Cyberspouse and I both wanted to see, though by then I had forgotten what it was called and what it was about.
It completely lived up to our expectations. Dark indeed, with violence and swearing, but the humour was brilliant, the story poignant. To carry off a film like this you need the best actors. My only pre conceived idea was that Francis McDormand would be good, but Woody Harleson and Sam Rockwell were also brilliant.
A Very English Scandal on BBC television was three episodes of perfect Sunday evening drama. Russell T Davies’ production was blackly comic (are you sensing a theme here of my taste in viewing? ) and has had viewers agog. Political scandals are not new, but the 1979 trial of Jeremy Thorpe, the leader of the Liberal Party and Member of Parliament for North Devon, revealed years of cover ups, lying and a farcical attempted murder that you couldn’t make up. It was also a story, familiar now, of a man in power abusing the trust of the most vulnerable. Even today, politicians who are gay often don’t ‘come out’ till their mother has died, or to avoid upsetting their family’s religious sensibilities. Before 1967 all sexual activity between men was illegal throughout the United Kingdom with heavy criminal penalties and was a sure way to destroy one’s career. Thorpe’s sexual encounters with other men and his affair with Norman Scott had to be kept secret, even if it meant killing the young man. Perhaps the public were most upset that the Great Dane was killed by mistake, Norman was only spared because the gun jammed.
The most scandalous thing about the trial was the judge’s totally biased summing up for which he was later lampooned by comedian Peter Cook. All those accused of conspiracy to murder were found Not Guilty.
This delicious three part drama, with its dark humour, worked because of the excellent acting in every part, it was Hugh Grant’s best ever role and Ben Wishaw is always brilliant in every character he takes on. We watched in real time and the icing on the cake was the showing straight afterwards of a 1979 Panorama documentary, intended to be shown after Jeremy Thorpe was found guilty. It had never been shown before. And there was more drama to follow. Tom Mangold who made the documentary, was walking his dog in the park and met a man who claimed to have also been hired to kill Norman Scott, but didn’t go through with it. Andrew Newton, the man accused of the attempted killing was claimed by police to be dead, but is now claimed to be very much alive, living under another name. Gwent Police have reopened their enquiry into the scandal. Sunday night news showed a plainclothes officer knocking at a front door; of course no one was in, another amusing post script.