Voice from the Stone (Film Review)

15 – 94mins – 2017


 

TUSCAN RAIDER

Mute since his sickly mother passed away, young Jakob’s (Edward Dring) despairing father, Klaus (Marton Csokas), hopes English nurse Verena (Emilia Me Before You Clarke) will succeed where a string of other live-in caregivers have failed and get his mourning heir talking again.

… Keep Scuttling!

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TABOO, 1.2 (TV Review)

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BBC One – Saturday 14th January 2017 – 9:15pm

Created by: Tom Hardy, Edward “Chips” Hardy, Steven Knight

Written by: Stephen Knight

Directed by: Kristoffer Nyholm


LEAGUE OF THE DAMNED

“The King and Company are after your head…”

Now more adamant than ever that his inherited piece of land on the Canadian-American border is not for sale, in this sophomore instalment of the eight part BBC/FX mini-series, troubled rogue James Delaney (co-creator Tom Hardy) is a man on a mission: to recruit a team of trustworthy allies to aid him in reclaiming his poisoned father’s legacy, the Nootka Sound… and stop any number of his myriad enemies from striking him down to take it. And there was me thinking he was a superhuman one-man band?

… Keep Scuttling!

TABOO, 1.1 (TV Review)

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BBC One – 7th January 2017 – 9:15pm

Written by: Steven Knight

Directed by: Kristoffer Nyholm


RUMOURS, WOE AND RESURRECTION

In a bold show of supreme confidence in the broader-than-usual appeal of their first major new drama of 2017, the BBC scheduled this dark period piece for a prime time Saturday evening slot. With Hollywood hunk Tom Hardy in the lead role and with Ridley Scott as an Executive producer, such star pedigree and lofty production values make it hard to question their decision. But did last night’s debut instalment of Taboo make me desperate to return next weekend?

… Keep Scuttling!

Fire Witch (Book Review)

Written by: Matt Ralphs, 2016

Published in the UK by: Macmillan Children Books

Pages: 276


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NO ORDINARY GIRL

In the Acknowledgements at the rear of Matt Ralphs’ recent sequel to his 2015 breakout hit, Fire Girl (which I reviewed HERE), the blossoming children’s author openly acknowledges the “breakneck speed” at which his editors at Macmillan Children’s Books dictated he write the follow up. Whereas he was able to spend close to five years “scribbling feverishly” on his debut during his spare time, following a publication deal he had a turnaround period of just one-fifth of that time in which to spin a successive yarn.

… Keep Scuttling!

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.6 (TV Review)

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BBC One – 2nd August 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Simon Tyrrell

Series Created by: Ashley Pharaoh

Directed by: Sam Donovan


 

A GHOST OF HIS FORMER SELF

This is it. Six weeks later than fans who binge-watched it all on iPlayer, BBC One has completed its weekly Tuesday night transmissions of Ashley Pharaoh’s haunting historical drama, The Living And The Dead. By tying together the glimpses and clues which have peppered the six hour run, explaining the escalating mysteries and hinting at more, episode 1.6 was a perfect conclusion to a superior series.

“Stay with me, Daddy.”

Haunted by his “insoluble guilt” following the death of his first child, Nathan Appleby (Colin Morgan) has lost himself in a spiral of depression which has mired him in an unhinged purgatory where the past, present – and future! – intertwine in a sanity-testing fug. Can his pregnant wife, Charlotte (Charlotte Spencer) warm his “cold eyes” and save her husband’s “lost soul”, or will the ghost of young Gabriel (Arthur Bateman) get his way and lead his father to the afterlife…?

After weeks of the briefest hints and teases (headlights, iPads, red coats), we finally spend some sustained time in the present day, with the “book of light” carrying “guardian angel” who Nathan suspected was attempting to steal Gabriel away at last revealed to be his great-great-granddaughter, Lara (Chloe Pirrie). Self-admitted herself to a psychiatric ward, Lara has likewise been haunted by Gabriel’s ghost since giving birth to her daughter, Lottie.

When her visiting grandmother (Diana Quick) reveals Lara is not the first in her family to see Gabriel’s ghost, the suspected postpartum psychosis-sufferer escapes hospital and heads to the abandoned and dilapidated Shepzoy estate for answers…

“I know I’m somehow part of this…”

With her iPad chock full of photographed mementos of Nathan’s bygone era, Lara offers viewers a whistle-stop recap of the series so far, with pictorial reminders of the ghost miners storyline from 1.2, Nathan’s evermore frantic scribblings and the tragic love affair from 1.4. I love the wicked irony that a series so ingrained with a theme of progress has its dual leads (Nathan in 1894 and Lara in 2016) stalled in their attempts to move on from the past.

“The essential thing is timing…”

“… and the amount of light.”

Paying heed to its own advise, I must give credit to the series’ lighting directors. I watched this final episode during the day with the curtains open and still its evocative tone, use of both natural and artificial light and shadow and creepy concessions to the supernatural genre (faces in windows, lullabies chanted through walkie-talkies, glimpses of blood-stained victims through shaky-cam perspective) elicited goosebumps on innumerable occasions!

With a horse-drawn reveal which shatters the temporal line more than it already had been, The Living and the Dead 1.6 manages to leave viewers simultaneously satisfied and still with plenty to ponder. I could nit-pick why Gabriel still required parental company when Lara’s grandmother had already revealed that Lara’s mother committed suicide shortly after giving birth, but this is a minor quibble in an otherwise exemplary timey-wimey narrative jigsaw plot.

The closing scene, posing a question still unanswered, gives me high hopes that this isn’t the last we have seen of the “notorious” Nathan Appleby. Hopefully the BBC listen to their guardian angels and commission a second series of this progressive and perplexing drama – please don’t leave us hanging over that juicy cliff!

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (DVD Review)

15 – 108mins – 2016


 

DAWN OF THE DREADFULS

Death comes to Pemberley, but quite unlike how P.D. James imagined in this Austen meets the undead clash of corsets, courtship and cannibalism, based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s genre-mashing 2009 ‘toilet read’ bestseller.

“Keep your sword as sharp as your wit.”

Trading with the colonies has brought the black plague to British soil, quarantining London’s aristocrats behind a grand barrier and leading men and women alike to refine their shaolin skills and put survival over socialising in taking down the reanimated corpses of their nearest and dearest.

Their are some unique touches here – such as the use of carrion flies to smell out dead flesh; the church of St. Lazarus being used to house “intelligent” zombies living off of pig’s blood rather than human brains – but aside from a couple of creepy snapshots (“ring-a-ring-a-roses”; servant uprising) this parody adaptation is neither creepy nor comic enough to be either horror or comedy.

“Oh, fuddle…”

With his tongue firmly in cheek, Matt Clone Smith is a scene-stealing ray of delight as “odious” buffoon Mr. Collins; a pompous man with verbal diarrhoea and a taste for scones. It’s just a pity that too many of the other stars play this cheese-fest far too straight, with Sam Riley’s aloof Colonel Darcy the prime offender; dickish and detestable to such a degree that I find it hard to believe Elizabeth Bennett (Lily Romeo & Juliet James) would ever be swept off her stocking-clad feet.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

THE LIVING AND THE DEAD, 1.3 (TV Review)

BBC 1 – 12th July 2016 – 9pm

Written by: Simon Tyrrell

Series created by: Ashley Pharaoh

Directed by: Alice Troughton


 

DUCKING THE HARE

“You will reap what has been sown.”

Harvest time is upon Shepzoy and tension is in the fields, perfectly encapsulated in the sombre folk song which riffs and repeats during key scenes in this eerie third episode of the BBC’s Tuesday night period drama. New Farm Manager Charlotte Appleby (Charlotte Spencer) is apprehensive about her first reaping being a success, while her psychologist husband Nathan (Colin Morgan) is suffering from insomnia following the death of tragic Charlie last week.

There is once more an episodic feel to proceedings with Charlie’s grieving mother (Pooky Quesnel) departing her home to make way for a new supernatural case file. This arrives in the twitchy form of nervous and highly-strung Peter Hare (Peter Emms), who is disturbed by voices and visions of a woman persuading him to sacrifice his mother, Maud (Elizabeth Berrington), to guarantee the wheat will not perish.

References to the reverend’s daughter and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from the deceased John (Steve Oram) from the opening episode do begin to paint proceedings into a larger panoramic portrait, so too a climatic tease to the return of Nathan’s haunted past next week, but this also works successfully as a gripping one hour supernatural adventure.

“We must evolve and embrace the new.”

Incoming episode scribe Simon Tyrrell successfully incorporates creator Ashley Pharaoh’s ever-present theme of tradition vs. progress, with the old-school farmworkers fearful of a cursed crop and looking for a witchly scapegoat to string up when an infestation of “black devils” swarms the sheaths. Can the new mistress “break the spell” with some scientific pest control, or will nature further dampen their spirits?

With more hallucinations and yet another night time wander, The Living and the Dead does veer perilously close to overusing its stock terror tropes, but the expanding story, weekly mysteries, eerie air and character’s convictions more than make up for the shadow of familiarity. Episode 1.3 is a strong and spooky, measured and moody addition to a prime portfolio.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 4 stars