I’ve decided to split my reviews so that I can manage a few more in depth reports on each section without getting overwhelmed. So this year there’ll be a number of monthly review posts instead of one main one, and an occasional longer critique. I’ll start by looking back at film and TV I watched in December 2020.
As usual in December, I watched quite a lot! Very little of it was typical holiday viewing. A lot of it was extremely good.
First the excellent:
Nordic Murders 1 and 2*****This, for Brits, should still be available to stream. It was shown on More4 and I understand there are to be more episodes. Each is film length and follows a different murder inquiry but the family dynamics between the main characters steal the show. It is set on Usedom, a German island in the Baltic, near the Polish border, and some of the action takes place in Poland, involving the Polish police. I was really hooked by the overarcing plot and an extra pleasure came from knowing the area.
Tamara Drewe ***** A group of writers at a retreat deep in the Dorset countryside are gradually drawn into the events in a village that end in death and chaos. The acting is brilliant and the twists and turns of the plot are never predictable. As you’ll gather from the five stars,, I loved it.
The Wrong Trousers***** A re-watch. Surely everybody has to love Wallace and Gromit? I find the ‘claymation’ much more immediately satisfying than most ‘funny’ cartoons. I could watch the whole series all day, admiring the technical way the models are manipulated (Gromit’s expressions are wonderful) and enjoying the understated Brit humour.
The Goes Wrong Show: The Nativity***** Probably still available on BBC iPlayer. I don’t always laugh at this series which I think tries too hard and therefore often fails, but The Nativity was wonderful and I never stopped giggling. I think it was so funny because I know all about school and church nativity plays. (One of my favourite Christmas films is Flint Street Nativity.)
Britain’s Most Historical Towns: Manchester (Alice Roberts)***** The historian explored the history of Manchester and of course we watched – we live in Greater Manchester after all. Alice Roberts is always worth listening to, and gives us a broad sweep of history while at the same time concentrating on a wealth of details that bring a place to life. Shown on Channel 4 and probably still available.
Freddie Mercury: a Christmas Story***** I’ve seen a number of biopics etc. about Freddie and Queen. This was a particularly good one.
Billy Elliot***** Another rewatch. I love this film. For anyone who doesn’t know it’s the story of a young boy in the north east of England who decides, almost accidentally, to learn ballet, much to the initial horror of his family. He eventually becomes a principle ballet dancer and the film follows his progress.
Knives Out ***** Daniel Craig stars in this quirky detective story set in America. Although I like Craig and his acting is good, the only flaw I would point to in this film is his accent. I suppose it’s meant to be Southern American but let’s face it, he’s Brit, and it doesn’t quite come off. Through various perspectives and a number of flashbacks which may or may not be recounted by unreliable narrators, Craig, as a private detective, gets to the bottom of a case the police are unable to solve. Worth watching.
I also thoroughly enjoyed a couple of concerts on YouTube – the Hallé Christmas Concert ****** and the Virtual Carol Concert – Online Carol Concert – LordsTaverners.org. ****** These were both delightful, but we also started watching a carol concert filmed in Peak Cavern in our local Peak District and gave up. It was filmed before the pandemic and seemed somehow unreal. Also, the music was excellent (a brass band from our area) but the soloists were too loud and not to our taste. I’m not sure why I wanted a more ‘distanced’ performance but I did. It was the only thing I abandoned in my December viewing.
The Shape of Water**** A deaf cleaner working in a research facility realises that an alien is being abused by the people investigating him. Gradually, with help from some of the scientists, she gains the alien’s trust, then his love. It’s an interesting idea and has an unlikely but romantic ending. The acting is excellent and the direction is tight, making sure the story is gripping.
Return of the Black Death: Secret History**** Another More4 production that looked at the history of the Black Death in the middle ages, the mid-seventeenth century ‘plague’ in London, and the implications for our current situation. Fascinating. I knew most of the historical information but it is always good to see links made and explored, and to set the present day in context.
Princess Alice: The Royals’ Greatest Secret**** This was on Channel 5 and was a biography of Alice, mother of the Duke of Edinburgh and therefore mother-in-law to the queen. She was a very interesting person in her own right and it was good to get more information about her as well as throwing light on Prince Philip’s childhood, young adulthood and marriage.
The World’s End**** This was a re-watch and in fact it might be the third time I’ve seen it. It’s a film by the team that brought us Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, etc. and it has moments of hilarity followed by moments of terror but I have always thought the ending was contrived and less than stellar. The acting is, of course, as you’d expect, superb.
The Clown **** This Christmas offering for children is based on the book and drawings, by Quentin Blake. As you’d expect, the drawings are excellent and the story is quite nice but somehow doesn’t reach the heights of The Snowman or The Gruffalo. A toy clown is thrown out in the trash and escapes. He then decides to rescue his fellow toys who are all waiting to be collected by the bin men.
The watchable if there’s nothing else on
The Valhalla Murders*** This was billed as the new Scandi-noir and was set in Iceland. It wasn’t well filmed, and there were too many incidents where the investigating team put themselves in harm’s way by e.g. entering dangerous premises alone at night. The investigators themselves clearly had severe family problems but these were never properly explained or resolved, just used to add to the atmosphere. The scenery was interesting, though somewhat black and white (Iceland in winter) and the acting was better than the script or the direction.
Happy Feet*** I love penguins but I’m not sure a full length animation film is quite to my taste. I almost fell asleep. The film naturally lacks colour, being about a black and white bird in a mostly white landscape, and there is a focus on the way penguins do in fact live, so the whole thing never really decided whether it was story about a lovable penguin, an animated attempt to ‘sell’ the idea of conservation, or a documentary in black and white. I was tired, but even so… I really felt I’d wasted a couple of hours.