This week we explore the life of a British icon, spend some time with some rural youngsters & check in with the UK’s worst teacher.
Currently the head of ITV’s factual drama division; Jeff Pope’s latest work sees him work once again with his apparent muse Sheridan Smith with the pair having previously collaborated on Mrs Biggs and The Widower. As I associate most of Pope’s work with misery and murder it was surprising to learn that his most recent project was a biopic of Cilla Black, with Smith taking the leading role. Cilla doesn’t focus on Ms. Black’s hosting of Blind Date or Surprise Surprise; but instead takes us back to the time when she was just a seventeen-year-old typist dreaming of making it big as a singer. This first episode took us back to 1960 with The Cavern Club playing a big part in Cilla’s metamorphosis into a popular local star. Her friendship with Ringo Starr and her possibility of being signed by The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein were covered in great detail in this first episode. But more than anything else I feel that Pope wants to make Cilla a love story between our heroine and Bobby Willis; the man who would later go on to be her husband and manager. Here Bobby is portrayed as something of a blagger who lies to Cilla in order to date her before she later learns the truth about him. But he eventually wins her round with his smooth-talking and promises of better money when she becomes a regular fixture on the Liverpool club scene. Even though this first episode of Cilla was an enjoyable ride, I felt I’d gone round in circles when at the end of the episode Cilla had seemingly missed her chance at the big time.
With Cilla being a three-part-series, a lot of what happened in this first episode felt like filler in order to successfully prolong our protagonist’s later fame. As a result some of the scenes were fairly dull, especially those which focused on Bobby’s tricky family life and his role as the provider for his father and brother. That’s no fault of actor Aneurin Barnard who I felt was great as the cocksure Bobby as he made me understand why Cilla eventually fell head-over-heels for him. Barnard shares a great chemistry with Sheridan Smith as they bounce off each other perfectly and make sure that the love story between their characters remains the main focus of the story. Although I feel she’s a little old to play the part, Smith is nonetheless fantastic as one of Britain’s most iconic entertainment stars. What I feel most people will be drawn to is Smith’s performances in the musical scenes as she sings all of Cilla’s songs live. This first episode mainly shows Cilla performing some of the classic rock n roll hits of the time and Smith appears to have perfected the deep tones needed to nail these sort of tunes. In fact these club scenes were some of the highlights of Cilla’s first episode and I feel that the production team have done an incredible job of recreating The Cavern Club. The period detail throughout Cilla is exemplary from the milkshake bars to the set out of Cilla’s parent’s flat I personally felt I’d been transported back to the 1960s. Ultimately the first episode of Cilla was a breezy ride through the icon’s early career but I’ve got a feeling that there’s better things to come and I can’t wait to hear the brilliant Sheridan Smith belt out some of Cilla’s more recognisable numbers.
As I’m now into my third decade I do wonder if some TV dramas aren’t aimed at me any more especially those on youth-orientated channels such as BBC3 and E4. These feelings certainly crept up when watching E4′s Glue which follows a group of hedonistic youngsters who live in a seemingly sleepy rural village. The opening scene of Glue perfectly exemplifies the lives of the characters when we meet them as we follow young farmer James (Billy Howle) as he runs completely naked through a field before jumping into a grain silo to meet his friends, as you do. Meanwhile ambitious jockey Tina (Charlotte Spencer) gets drunk, does a lot of drugs and then steals a car before burning it. But the lives of these characters, and indeed that of the whole community, are shaken after young traveller Cal (Tommy Lawrence Knight) is found murdered on James’s land. The city police are soon called to investigate the matter but draft in young officer Ruth (Yasmin Page) due to her connections with the Romany community that Cal was a part of. I personally found Ruth to be the most engaging of all of the characters as she was the only member of the core group of youngsters who had tried to grow up. The focus on the Romany community’s tension with the rest of the villagers intensified after the murder and I’m hoping its a recurring theme throughout the series as I felt it was another intriguing part of the drama. One element of Glue that didn’t particularly pique my interest was the central mystery surrounding Cal’s murder. Although writer Jack Thorne did make a few of the central protagonists appear suspicious; I wasn’t desperate to find out who the murderer was and I feel that I should have been.
To its credit, Glue boasts some fantastic performances, most notably from its female cast members. Top of the list for me was the fantastic Yasmin Page who was utterly believable as police officer Ruth, who had forgone the juvenile lifestyle of the rest of the village’s youngsters and instead tried to act responsibly. I found her performance to be particularly powerful in the scene in which she’s forced to watch Cal’s autopsy in order to prove to the more experience officers that she’s able to handle the pressure of the case. Charlotte Spencer is equally great as thrill-seeking jockey Tina as I felt she really made me care about a character who could easily have felt clichéd. Meanwhile the always reliable Faye Marsay put in another fine turn as feisty young vet Janine. Unfortunately I felt their male counterparts let the side down partially because their characters all felt incredibly similar. Both Billy Howle as James and Callum Turner as Cal’s brother Eli came off as brooding and introspective but neither was particularly likeable. Similarly Rizzle Kicks’ Jordan Stephens never made his character, drug-dealing Rob, feel anything more than two-dimensional. However, there’s no denying that Glue looks fantastic with cinematographer Urszula Pontikos making the rural backdrop feel awfully alienating. But, despite the artistic camerawork, I still found myself strangely detached from Thorne’s drama which surprised me as I’d been a fan of his work in the past. Glue definitely showed promise and I’ll definitely continue to watch the series but I’m not as hooked on the drama as I felt I would be and I’m wondering if that’s to do with my age rather than the quality of the show.
I wasn’t the only person who felt like their views were changing now they were getting older, in fact this was the central theme in Jon Richardson Grows Up. The comedian and star of 8 Out of 10 Cats embarked on a month-long road trip to see if his cynical outlook on relationships and families could be changed. Part of the motivation for the trip was due to the fact that Jon had recently moved in with his girlfriend and wanted to meet people who were in committed relationships. I’m not sure spending a month away from your partner is the best way to see if you’re destined to be together but then again Jon doesn’t strike me as a conventional type of guy. Joining Jon on the road is his best friend, and fellow comic, Matt Forde; who is a much more optimistic soul and hopes one day to meet the love of his life. Jon and Matt’s friendship was one of the most endearing elements of the programme and it was their discussions that anchored certain parts of the show. The road trip itself was a fairly scattershot affair as Jon and Matt met a couple who’d been together for 54 years, a married couple who didn’t live together and attended the marriage of a woman who’d already walked up the aisle on two occasions. The most memorable moment of the first episode came when the already awkward Jon was forced to attend a swingers party alone and found himself completely out of his depth. Another interesting set piece came when Matt went on two consecutive dates which had been arranged by a matchmaker who considered herself one of the best in the country. I found Jon Richardson Grows Up to be an enjoyable, funny look at the male attitude to adult relationships and in particular I enjoyed the affable lead’s musings on the people he’d met. As always with these programmes you wonder how many of the scenes we see are genuine and how many have been concocted for entertainment purposes. However that didn’t worry me too much and as I’d warmed to Jon so much as I was delighted to learn that he and his girlfriend had got engaged following his exploratory road trip.
Somebody who appears to have no desire to be a fully-rounded grown-up just yet is Jack Whitehall, whose sitcom Bad Education returned for a third series. In the series opener, Whitehall and co-writer Freddie Syborn tried to convince us that much had changed over the holidays. Tarty Chanelle was becoming engrossed in her studies, brainy Ying had become an existentialist and wheelchair-bound Rem Dog had turned Emo. However, I wasn’t convinced that anything had changed at all as Bad Education still contained the same juvenile jokes and the recurring gag that Alfie Wickers (Whitehall) was the world’s worst teacher. Although things appeared to be turning around for Alfie due to his blossoming relationship with Miss Gulliver (Sarah Solemani) the arrival of his father Martin (Harry Enfield) at the school look to threaten his domestic bliss. Martin threatened to sack one of the teachers due to Abbey Grove’s limited budget and the prime target looked to be his idiot son. However, just before Martin could fire anyone, the teachers went on strike with the resulting consequences making Alfie question his teaching abilities. Just when I thought that Alfie’s new attitude would make Bad Education interesting again things reverted back to type as the kids once again began to slack off in lessons. Once again I found that the most enjoyable moments of Bad Education featured Matthew Horne as woeful headteacher Fraser who was more interested in selling his new invention, the Segdesk, than he was at running the school. Horne appears to be having so much fun in the role that it’s hard not to enjoy his scenes however I personally wish he’d appear more. Meanwhile the young actors who portray Alfie’s class are full of energy and eager to make the show as funny as possible. Unfortunately I feel that Whitehall is phoning his performance in this series whilst Solemani is under-utilised as the principled Miss Gulliver. Whitehall recently claimed that this would be the final series of Bad Education, which I feel is the right move as it now seems to be rehashing old ground. I’m just hoping that the sitcom reverts to the quality set by its first series as I’d love it to end on a high rather than peter out with a disappointing final run.
As always the ubiquitous Whitehall is a busy boy as he’s already taping more episodes of his patchy talk show Backchat as well as appearing on Sky’s A League of Their Own. In addition to this he’s soon to feature as one of the hosts on the newly revived Sunday Night at the Palladium, which began its run last week. Although the variety show will mainly be fronted by a number of comedians, this first episode was hosted by the rather bland Stephen Mulhern. I’ve never really been a fan of Mulhern’s and find him to be somebody who is severely lacking in the charisma department. As a result I found this opening episode of Sunday Night at the Palladium to be fairly lacklustre especially when Mulhern was interacting with the audience in some obviously scripted moments. Thankfully the show was saved by the special guests including Bryan Adams who knocked out a couple of hits and Alan Davies who performed a selection of jokes from his new tour. I liked how the variety of acts would appeal to certain members of the family with the kids lapping up Little Mix’s performance whilst the older generation probably enjoyed Alfie Boe’s warble through a Les Miserables number. Additionally I enjoyed the mixture of memorable names with a couple of variety acts that I’d never encountered before. For example quick change act David and Dania were an unexpected highlight and Canadian novelty trio Les Beaux Feres were equally surprising. I’m sure that Sunday Night at the Palladium will vary in quality depending on who the host is but on the whole I found the opening episode fairly entertaining. More than anything else it’s great to see an old-fashioned variety show with features recognisable rather than yet another reality programme in which normal people attempt to find stardom.
Next Time: Our Girl, Downton Abbey and The Driver