Oscar season once more. There’s been much hubbub about it being the Year of The Woman, what with all the #metoo and #timesup and all that jazz. Films featuring STRONG women, such as Ladybird, I, Tonya and Three Billboards. It seems unlikely we’ll get a repeat of last year’s erroneous Best Film announcement, or indeed anything as syrupy as Blah Blah Land patting itself on the back. I haven’t seen it. I’ll wait until it’s on the terrestrial telly box and watch it sneeringly.
The other day I watched The Artist, which needed a truck to take home all the gongs it won in 2011. To be honest, I was a bit puzzled why. Yes, it was startlingly different and Hollywood likes to think it’s au fait with that, nay, even the champion of that, but I found it a tad dull, excepting the far too few bursts of speech. The plot would have fitted into a matchbox quite honestly. It purported that the central actor was somehow lost in a silent world, incapable of speech, but never really explored this exciting Kafkaesque idea. And the predicament of the beautiful actress who went above and beyond the call of duty to help the insufferable, washed up ham just made me cross.
I saw Ladybird last night (I parted with my dollar for that) and thought it excellent. Thought-provoking, funny, intelligent with intriguing, rounded characters. Hadley Freeman wrote that it deserved the Best Film gong but almost certainly wouldn’t get it. I’m in complete agreement. It’s not showy enough. And Hollywood actually prefers its women to be dangerously unhinged, ill - preferably dying, a victim of some sort or an out-there kook to consider bestowing a statuette. They don’t really like warts-and-all women taking centre stage and getting on with their lives independent of the men. Incidentally, the men in the film were also very sympathetically portrayed, excepting Kyle, the arrogant boyfriend. Who was a complete arse who deserved no better.
The absolutely captivating Saoirse Ronan has the most exceptional face. Beguiling and unconventional. I noticed in the wash of trailers before the film that both Lily James and Amanda Seyfried have not one, but two new films coming out this year. Misfortune AND carelessness on the part of Tinseltown. The depressing fact is that Hollywood likes its starlets to look exquisite and thoroughly groomed. It’s ok for Frances McDormand or Sally Hawkins to look quirky, for they are not young any more. Occasionally a young woman who doesn’t fit the mould will win, but she’ll probably belong to the category of ‘unhinged-ill-dying-victim-extreme-kook.’ Maybe the equally excellent Laurie Metcalf will win Best Supporting, so at least it'll get one gong.
People kept asking me if I was watching Motherland. In addition to being a mother, I also work with mothers, so it was an obvious question. I did indeed watch it and I enjoyed it, although not as much as I had hoped, nor did I feel the series quite matched up to its pilot. The characters, who appeared there in glorious technicolour, were stretched to their lowest common denominator here.
Take for example, Liz, the sitcom’s only non middle class representative. She must have been toned down, because several people commented on the lack of social diversity, not even noticing she was different. She was still feisty and devil may care, but the quirkiness – which manifested itself in the pilot in a number of ways, such as keeping all her food items in the freezer – seemed to diminish, as she was seen wanly trying to attract one man after another.
The central character, Julia, as played by the excellent Anna Maxwell Martin, is brilliantly taut and brittle, yet increasingly less likeable as the episodes went on - her screeching, hysterical attitude towards her own mother was unpleasant to watch - and disorganised to a point that beggared belief. She constantly bemoaned her lack of childcare, yet would spend vast amounts of time in the café while her children were at school. Understandable if she had a pre-school aged child, yet she didn’t. The uber-bitch Amanda had a peculiar character transformation mid series and the stay-at-home dad Kevin was so absurdly puppyish and wimpy it was unnerving.
Certain things did hit the nail absolutely on the head. The concept of ‘school mum friends’, as distinct a group from real friends as work colleagues are. The hierarchy between the elite table and the lesser table in the café which was stuffed with school mums. Or the etiquette around children’s parties – do you stay with them or go, cancel if a child is ill, drink, not drink? Kevin, dolefully wandering around the school fundraiser as a sweat-drenched ‘human cloakroom’ was very amusing. The Cat Man, employed by Julia as entertainment for her daughter’s party, whose act consisted solely of cats emerging from various boxes, was side-splitting. Best of all, the time that Julia knocked Anne’s dead father’s face out of the Pinhead ornament and had to hurriedly recreate it using her own, was equally genius and better than can be described here.
However, there was a paucity of laughs throughout: less about the exploration of the mother dynamics that was funny, rather the touches of absurd surrealism that were unrelated to the topic. It might have been an instance of ‘too many cooks’, seeing as there were four writers. Graham Linehan, creator of the brilliant and surreal Father Ted and IT Crowd, was one of them and I suspect the influence behind the three examples mentioned above. I wished his impact had been greater, if so. Or perhaps I’m just too close to the subject matter. Jo Brand said of ‘Damned’, her sitcom about social workers, that the most important factor was that it was funny. A friend of mine, who is a social worker, was spitting feathers about ‘Damned’ and what she felt was gross stereotyping, whereas I thought it was fabulous. If I am too like those mothers to be able to laugh at myself though, I wish I had as much time and money to spend in the café as they did.
I actually quite enjoy this version, truth be told. Not so much the personnel in question, who range from quite endearing to making you want to put your fist through the wall, but because they have some rather good challenges in this incarnation. The ingredient recognition test was always one of my favourites and I’m pleased to see it’s made a comeback, even though some of the items are insultingly simple. Red pepper, seriously?! Although I’d suppose you’d technically get brownie points for knowing it is a bell pepper, but this wasn’t adhered to.
The disparity between competence levels is both amusing and frustrating and makes you realise all the more they had to take who they could get, so thinly stretched is the ‘talent’ available. These Celeb versions littering the schedules rely on us, the ever-slavering public, giving two figs as to whether so-and-so who once presented something on an obscure cable channel is now able to boil an egg satisfactorily. You do get one or two bona fide big names per series, Vic Reeves being one this time round. Shame he couldn’t have been paired with Ulrika Jonsson. Or Ulrika-ka-ka, as she’s better known from their time on Shooting Stars. He might have relaxed her slightly. She looks like she’s being almost constantly tortured, which makes you wonder why she’s subjected herself to it. Oh yes, for cash probably.
You realise how bad this Non Celeb thing has got when you look at Kate (or rather the Reverend Kate. She has to permanently wear her dog collar and cross herself in case we, the dribbling loons, forget for a second who she is). Is Reverend Kate famous for healing the sick, making the lame rise from their beds, turning water into wine or any other useful skill? No. Reverend Kate is famous because she once watched OTHER PEOPLE DOING THINGS ON TELEVISION. Now, I love Gogglebox very much indeed, but those on Gogglebox need to STAY on Gogglebox, not be meandering over all our programmes willy-nilly. Yes, Scarlett Moffatt, I AM looking at you. You have a certain caustic wit, but Noel Coward you are not. It wouldn’t surprise me if dear Scarlett rocked up presenting News at Ten, so ubiquitous is she these days. Warhol would be spinning in his grave so much, his head would be drilling holes in the sides.
Rev Kate had the work ethic of all the disciples and a few saints for good measure. Her output was astonishing and ultimately proved her downfall, as she produced three puddings instead of the stipulated one. This would have been fine except the least appetising looked like it had come out of an ill cat’s bottom. She made no friends on the Twitterverse, who felt her modesty about her talents was somewhat fake. Worse than that, she was extraordinarily bossy and condescending to her fellow Slebs on the challenges. It was all in the editing, protested some. Maybe once, but she was even worse the second time, which starts to look more like carelessness than misfortune, as genuine celebrity Oscar Wilde might have said.
Much feather-spitting ensued also around Ulrika’s staying power. She does seem to have a lot of lives (unlike the ill cat from whom Rev Kate’s pud ensued). In the last round, she made a risotto. I’m sure it was very nice indeed, but I can make a very nice risotto. I’m not sure I could make an exquisite rose out of thinly peeled apple as Angelica Bell did. Or show as much grit as adorable Becky Adlington, who after an initial horrified reaction to the fish, knuckled down to the preparation without a further murmur. These two are the winners in my book. You go, girlfriends!
Having never had one of those debilitating, but not too painful, illnesses that confine you to your bed for a couple of weeks, there hasn’t been time to read the epic that is ‘War and Peace.’ Now perhaps there’s no need, having this jolly romp to keep me going. Everything looks gorgeous, the people, the houses, the countryside.
The first scene is a grand party, with beautiful creatures flitting to and fro. I can’t help a momentary snigger when they address each other in names that take half a minute to say, Alex PopDownToTheShopsonov, that sort of thing. Into this veritable Eden lurches an outsider. You can tell he is, because he’s wearing ordinary clothes, rather than looking as if he’s wrapped himself in ornamental brocade curtains like everybody else. Also, GASP, he doesn’t regard Napoleon as the devil incarnate. He bowls about, gesticulating madly, while the ladies titter in the background.
‘Our drawing rooms are full of overfed aristocrats who have no idea what real life is like…’ This is our underdog Pierre, who looks like a mash-up of Chris’ Addison’s character from ‘The Thick of It’ and Harry Potter.
Meanwhile the moody hero ‘Moody Andre the Moody One’ mooches about moodily, as if his is the worst lot ever and he’s in a right mood, despite having a pretty little wife about to make him a father.
Just when I’m wondering where the Ferrero Rocher are, Stephen Rea announces he and his spawn are off to try their luck at the ambassador’s reception. Anything to keep him away from Rebecca Front, who keeps thrusting her pauper son at all and sundry.
Pierre trudges back to killjoy ‘relative’ Rea’s house, brooding on how different he is, but then has an about face. He may look all virginal Vicar of Dibley, but is in fact a bit of a dirty dog, so slopes off to one of those parties our esteemed PM probably indulged in at the Bullingdon Club. So scandalous this party is, we are only treated to tantalisingly brief clips from his hungover brain. And Rebecca Front, who clearly has been cloned because she pops up everywhere and knows everything, informs us a policeman was tied to a bear and thrown in the river. Sheesh, these guys know how to party.
Pierre stops off at another posh house when he is supposed to be paying his respects to his dying father. ‘His natural son’, Rea had sneered earlier.
‘Did he have any other kind?’ Gillian Anderson enquired nervously.
Erm, in the early nineteenth century, I don’t think so.
Pierre gives a pat to one of the pigs as he comes in the back entrance (oops vicar, where’s your Cameron?) before bumbling around Lily James, who’s wandered in from Downton Abbey, sporting a thoroughly modern fringe and calling out ‘bye’.
He might have stayed all night, watching Ade Edmondson’s comedy dancing, if his dad hadn’t had another stroke, necessitating an immediate visit.
‘We’ll go together,’ announced Front determinedly, her mind clearly set on getting some real gold foil-wrapped chocolate nut balls.
At the dying man’s bedside she is truly MAGNIFICENT, shoving Pierre into his father’s embrace and wrestling off the hapless cousin of the dastardly Rea, with his evil plot to destroy the true will, thus robbing Pierre of loads of dosh.
Now Pierre can be proper rich and dress in curtains like the rest of them. Like that bit in ‘Pretty Woman’ where Julia Roberts goes back to the shop that had refused her custom, he can tour yet another grand party while all the girls make eyes at him.
He looks just as bemused by this turn of events and feels most uncomfortable at having all this wealth. Rea has to do more about turns than if his Jag was boxed in by a Ford Cortina as he pretends he’s been bezzy mates with Pierre all along and engineers the engagement (and natural sharing of the cash), to his daughter Helene. Perhaps if he paid more attention to his own household, he’d notice she’s regularly in flagrante delicto with her brother which will surely out by Episode 3 at the latest.
War doesn’t happen till the last twenty minutes, where the generals not only get to wear extremely fancy curtains, but also pirate hats with parrots on them. It’s as bloody and gruesome as you might expect. And extremely one-sided. What were the Russians thinking of trying to do Rock, Paper, Scissors with their spears when the other side had guns? Rank amateurs. Andre, who’s cheered up somewhat, keeps putting himself in more and more danger. It’s as if he had a sign saying ‘Shoot Here’ on his head. I don’t think he’ll ever get to be moody round his wife again.
THREE EPISODE SPECIAL!!
Honestly, you wait YEARS for a bloke, then several turn up at once. So it is for Natasha, who’s all grown up and decided fringes are SO last season. As is any other facial hair. The nice, uncomplicated (once he’s got the prostitutes out of his system) David Mitchell lookalike is rejected, despite the splendour of his mazurka (and his moustache). Uber-villain Dolokhov twigs she prefers a clean-shaven look and being unwilling to shave off his own splendid ‘dot and dash’ restrains himself to a mere mental undressing of her before trying his luck with Sonya. That doesn’t work for Sonya is far too sensible. Natasha – pay attention.
Instead Natasha falls big-time for Andrei, who momentarily stops being gloomy, especially when they’re rolling down a snowy slope together. You’d think he would have learned after the demise of his first wife just to crack on with things. What does he do? Tells her he loves her but has to go away for a year cos his dad said so. Dad being a man who frothes at the mouth, wears a barrister’s wig despite having hair and regularly makes wood shavings for no discernible reason, even though he’s got 14,000 staff. Also, Everyday Sexism would have a field day with his unreconstructed twaddle towards his daughter. Not just him either. Watching everyone dismiss lovely Marya as being like the back end of a bus made me right narked. I hope she runs amok with a sword soon – that would show ‘em. She’s certainly got more depth as an actress than Lily James, who relies far too much on big eyes, sleeve tugging and hair twiddling. Although Natasha is a Helen of Troy type part. Every man seems to fall in love with her because of her unique charm and breathtaking beauty, which is a helluva job to live up to.
Realising he should have made his move with Natasha when he had the chance depresses Pierre somewhat. Perhaps she’d heard him say ‘Remember me?’ to the pigs as he paid a call to her gaff, which might put anyone off. And he was doing so well. He’d passed an extremely stressful initiation ceremony into the Masons - I don’t think I’d want to be a member of a club that had me lying helpless on the floor while a load of people pointed swords at me and Ken Stott bobbed about like a deranged Hobbit, but whatever floats your boat. Then he had spent weeks touring his estates promising schools would be built like a prototype Jamie Oliver. It had got him over the nasty business with Dolokhov and his wife. When Ade Edmondson had asked Pierre if war-hero Dolokhov was ‘making his home with you,’ I don’t imagine he’d envisaged the home being his wife’s quarters but there you go.
Mind you, they were all tupping Tuppence (what a splendid name that actress has). Not just the big D, but the gullible Boris. And her brother, obvs. I’d got a bit confused with the Kuragins in fact, because I watched an episode of Dickensian recently and up popped both Tuppence and Stephen Rea. They weren’t wearing curtains though, so that cleared things up.
Poor old Nikolai also fell foul of the nasty Dolokhov. He was so butch when he returned from war, he’d even grown himself a nice little tache. He clearly didn’t understand that some are born moustachiod, some achieve moustaches and some have moustaches thrust upon them. He was the latter sort. As soon as he lost the hair, he also lost all the family’s cash to Dolokhov in what was surely a rigged card game and THEN, selfishly refused to even consider the nice rich bird his mum had lined up for him. No, he was going to marry Sonya, even though he’d told her an episode back that he wasn’t all that bothered really.
Nikolai spoke the truth about Andrei though. Why had he gone off as if he were ashamed of the Rostovs…? Maybe because their timing is always a bit off. Natasha and Ade pay an unexpected call on Andrei’s family and get the right hump because they weren’t ‘received properly.’ Why should they have been? Jim Broadbent was still wearing his wee willy winkie hat instead of his nice wig. Give the man his dignity. Or it might be because neither of the kids can work out what being in love is. I blame their mother. The twittery flutter she went into whenever Andrei was mentioned, let alone in the same room, indicated she wouldn’t mind a pop herself.
Or course the Kuragin sexed-up siblings would have no such qualms about who belonged to who. I don’t think their Pop was any great shakes in the morals department either. Never mind the shenanigans, what appalling manners they display at any kind of performance. She shouts all over the place at the opera and he gets his fingers a-wandering over Natasha’s flower and then starts all over again when the French actress is reciting away like mad at their party. Frankly, Russian Equity should have them barred.
They decide he must have Natasha. God knows why, she’s got no cash (although they all live in palaces), must just be for the larks and she seems powerless to resist. I don’t know why they all like him so much. He looks like a weasel, and not a particularly nice weasel at that. She regresses to the age of five, snubbing poor dear Marya who comes to apologise, telling Sonya she hates her just because Sonya is trying to point out he only wants to get his end away. (SENSIBLE Sonya – pay attention Natasha!) Pierre gets all ferocious and boots Anatole out of Moscow. Phew! He’s not just Grand Master, he’s Flash and Melle Mel with it. To the sound of heart-rending sobs, Andrei finally rolls back into town – let’s hope no-one tells him about Anatole, they wouldn’t, would they…?
P.S. Not much war went on in these episodes. Napoleon has calmed right down apparently.
In the words of the great Mr Swayze; Nobody puts Napoleon in the corner. Contrary to my last report, he’s very far from calm and wants all of Russia for his plaything. The score for this drama has been wonderfully majestic and stirring, but I couldn’t help thinking of Ini Kamoze whenever Napoleon oiled his way onto the screen.
‘Here comes the French leader, Napoleon
He’s the ear-rubbing gangster, murderer
Splice all de men in de area, Napoleon
Or blow dem up like dat, murderer!’
He swaggers into the chandelier-laden glamping-style tent, flourishes his magnificent tassels and dulcetly informs hapless messenger Boris, ‘I am going to take your country.’ [Mr Bond] ‘But don’t worry, it’s not your fault.’ He will apparently be merciful to the Russians, he announces magnanimously, as if he’s doing them a favour.
Elsewhere, Moody Andrei is on such a moral high ground he must be knocking his head on the pearly gates. EVERYbody thinks he was asking for trouble, leaving ‘sweet flesh’ Natasha unattended for a whole year, but no, he is a different sort of man to Pierre, shackled to the permanently-recumbent-with-another-fella Helene. He cannot and will not forgive. At one point he looks wistfully at two girls scrumping for plums in an orchard. They have not yet gone sour, you can see him thinking.
The writing was on the wall for strumpet Helene however. She was lounging about with what looked to be Boris (of course he was getting his ear rubbed elsewhere), but was in fact merely ‘Helene’s lover’. A lover who’d put a bun in her oven.
‘You do want to marry me,’ she informed the hapless youth. The pause before he answered spoke volumes.
Natasha is in the depths of misery, shrouded in black, eyes permanently welling, submitting to leeches as is right and proper for the harlot she believes herself to be (one kiss, I tell you, ONE KISS). ‘I wish I were dead. I’m so unhappy.’ Boom – she’s transmogrified into proper Russian heroine. The only good thing to come out of Andrei’s Mood is he finally tells Jim Broadbent off for his appalling treatment of Marya and constant indulgence of the flibbertigibbet companion. He gets kicked out for his pains which is all Marya’s fault according to Dad; he’s so narked by all this treachery he falls off his horse.
There follows an absolutely beautiful Lear-like scene between the dying father and daughter, where he asks for forgiveness. He wants her to put on her white dress, which (let’s hope he wasn’t confusing her with his late wife on her wedding day) is an excellent plan. I don’t know why Marya has to be palmed off with blackout blinds while everyone else is wearing beautiful floral numbers.
She has a rough deal with the peasants too, who Judean People’s Front her, demanding to know, ‘What have you ever done for us?’
In the nick of time, Nikolai comes riding past and is smitten. He’s gone right up in my estimation. The twinkling between them fair thrilled me, not least knowing how irate Andrei-the-Moodster would be at the thought of the feckless Natasha’s brother snaffling his pure sister away.
Back at the battlefield, Pierre arrives to ‘see what’s going on’. The soldier he announces this to looks completely bemused. You can see why, it’s not exactly Ibiza. Those people lying around aren’t sunbathing, they’re pushing up the daisies.
‘I won’t get in your way,’ he says, then proceeds to do EXACTLY that, lumbering about knocking things over, looking round as if he’s entered a virtual war computer game and needs his console and some popcorn. At least he knows how to take cover. ‘Get down!’ they all shout at Andrei-Moodster, who is staring down the swivelling bomb as if it were ‘Spin the Bottle’ hoping he’ll get a better wife next time. It gets him a place on a hospital bed, which at least affords him a glimpse of Anatole having his leg amputated on the next bed. There’s karma for you.
Things go from bad to worse in the last episode, with corpses building up at an alarming rate. I think the general, the magnificent Brian Cox, is a bit too laissez-faire with his ‘We do nothing. Time and patience’ routine. He should tell his troops not to shout their arrival when they’re carrying out an ambush. With burning Moscow ‘wide open’ for Napoleon the peculiarly accented stud, the Rostovs flee. If Ade had had his way though, they’d have still been sitting around waiting. ‘We’ve got plenty of time,’ he announced airily waving a glass about. They take some injured soldiers with them, one of them being Andrei-Moodisch, who mortally wounded, now realises how he should have behaved. He is reconciled with Natasha before he dies, not that that helps her much.
Helene, finding the titters and turned backs not too appealing on the receiving end, took way too much of the nasty potion designed to bring on a miscarriage. The last we saw of her was sprawled on a bed (appropriately) having bled to death. That wasn’t all. Rostov the youngest, all excited to be riding into war with the grown-ups got shot leaving poor Rostov the eldest literally heart-broken.
As for Pierre, he had become a one-man avenging angel, rescuing children from burning buildings and duffing up soldiers. He almost stabbed one of those Frenchies who had commandeered his house, but his real plan was to take out Napoleon. He manages to get himself imprisoned with a peasant who teaches him the art of appreciating the humble potato. Peasant gets bumped on their monumental hike for being ‘too slow’ leaving his poor little dog whining pitifully – THAT won’t have gone down well with the animal-loving Brits. It must have been several months for Pierre and his fellow prisoners – their beards attested to that, although their captors bizarrely remained completely clean shaven. Pierre is finally rescued by his former nemesis Dolokhov and returned home, as Napoleon gets his butt kicked out of Russia.
I think we were all feeling somewhat gloomy by this point, so it was a relief that Nikolai had some strong women around him to set him straight. Even though Sonya (who is astonishingly nice) had nobly released him from their engagement, he was still mansplaining everywhere about how he would be seen as a fortune-hunter. Luckily the French flibbertigibbet displayed some hitherto unseen tact and sloped off leaving Marya, modern woman that she is (and wearing better clothes by the minute –yay!), to tell him she loves him. Luckily too, he heard the several thousand female viewers shouting at him to say yes and they were betrothed. As were Pierre and Natasha. Aww. So, it worked out fairly well for you in the end Mrs Rostov, notwithstanding your crone-like nature. Despite not having two roubles to rub together, your kids married up big style. ‘As long as there is life, there is happiness,’ came Pierre’s voiceover as they all sat around in the sunshine, their kids milling about. We salute you Pierre and if you don’t win an award for this, we’ll set Napoleon on them.