Picnic at Hanging Rock ep 1 (2018)

Jed and I had both wondered how this new version of Picnic at Hanging Rock could take a two hour story and turn it into six, but the answer to that question becomes clear relatively early on in this first episode, beginning as it does with an unnecessarily long and detailed sequence about the purchase of the school building, adding a clunky “mysterious” backstory and stupendously annoying voiceover for Mrs Appleyard, and generally proceeding at such a glacial pace that my fingers were already itching for the remote control a quarter of an hour in.

Although everything looks lush and beautiful – the scenery in particular is stunning and our friend Snoskred’s beloved Werribee Mansion looks very grand – and there is some clever, interesting use of colour and filters in the cinematography, unfortunately the actual style of storytelling is significantly less impressive: there is no subtlety at all about the writing, the characterisation or the intrusive, obvious music which soundtracks each mood or moment. It all feels far too self-conscious, determined to impress the viewer with how meaningful and significant every moment is, but if everything is meaningful and significant, then nothing is – it reminded me of what I call “the ITV style” where everything is telegraphed with the televisual equivalent of a giant “DO YOU SEE?!” sign and nothing is left to the audience to work out or feel for themselves.

Things do improve exponentially in the last ten minutes or so when the main event starts: watches stop, most of the schoolgirls suddenly and instantaneously lie down and sleep mid-picnic, and the three girls who don’t are immediately and irresistibly drawn to the Rock, with the shift in their priorities and even the look in their eyes nicely, creepily apparent to the viewer if not to their teacher or the fourth student who tags along. All that is terrific and there’s a genuinely terrifying moment when the girls see REDACTED on the Rock above them that I won’t forget soon. Unfortunately, though, even this crucial section of the episode – the last time anyone sees some of these girls alive and the crux of the entire mystery – is undercut by a long and silly dream sequence for Mrs Appleyard which I’m sure is meant to be very important but is really not to me. I think Natalie Dormer is a superb actress and she’s the main reason I was watching in the first place, but I just don’t care about this Mrs Appleyard or what she’s running from unless it/he also happens to be up there on Mount Diogenes with Miranda, Irma and co.

Will I watch again? Maybe, I don’t know. Another five hours of this adaptation doesn’t seem like something my viewing schedule or my life is missing, gorgeous scenery or not. Either way, though, I don’t think I’ll be writing any more reviews of it so, if you’re watching, any comments on the rest of the series are welcome on this thread.

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Private Eyes s2 ep 15

A modern twist on a traditional Rear Window-type theme this week, as a lonely little boy with time and a DRONE on his hands comes to believe his teacher has been murdered by her next door neighbour and hires a very sceptical Shade and Angie to investigate.

The ostensibly idyllic suburban setting brings up some apparently unresolved issues for Angie, but this is Private Eyes not Peyton Place so it’s nothing remotely traumatic. The mystery itself meanwhile meanders along quite nicely with the charmingly exasperated Maz popping up every now and again (“Thank God it wasn’t carrot!”), and Zoe in the background working on a (not that interesting, admittedly, but at least it doesn’t take up much time) side job for Shade Senior as well. No problem. “The Hills Have Eyes” is not in any way re-inventing the wheel – and lest any horror fans get the wrong idea, it’s about as close in tone to the movie of the same name as Paddington is to Nightmare on Elm Street – but it’s a cute, cosy story with some deft wee twists along the way, and, as usual, a thoroughly good heart at the centre of it – my eyes actually got a little misty at all the happy neighbourly togetherness at the end. Aw. Oh, and bonus: Shade and Angie pretend to be a married couple for a couple of minutes, so there’s that too. SQUEE.

Poldark s4 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

After years of Cap’n Ross being a reckless hothead, it’s funny but also quite charming to have a whole week where he’s the calm, sensible one, sorting out Geoffrey Charles’s shenanigans and gently but firmly bringing home to Caroline the need to deal with her grief instead of ignoring it. I don’t know about you guys, but I felt quite proud of him. And not only that, but he also somehow manages to set up a kind of aristocrat-funded income support for Truro (despite the Warleggan Weasel’s vociferous objections) and apparently start the ball rolling for the invention of the modern welfare state. Dude! I was getting a bit fed up with the scenes of him making speeches with lots of rowdy MPs shouting over him, but this is much more like it. As is the scene where he turns the full power of his social justice stare (no words, just some really intense looks) onto Lord Falmouth and it works too. Yay!

While Ross and Caroline are living large in London, however, Demelza and Dr Dwight are having a significantly less luxurious time and wondering whether they might have been better off married to each other, as they fight a losing battle to feed the starving around them and stop fever carrying off half of Sawle. One of the depressing things about the episode is the concept of the “working poor’ – people who have jobs, yet whose wages compared to rising prices mean they cannot make ends meet – and the fact that it still exists in the modern UK, giving Poldark a modern political relevance I wouldn’t ordinarily expect to find in it, but then this episode manages to surprise me more than once. The death of the awful Osborne is perhaps the biggest shock – I knew it had to happen, but I was taken aback by how fast it was, and how it happened before Drake married Rosina rather than afterwards. Not that this worked out any better for Drake: she handled him jilting her with grace and kindness, but the rest of the town (including Tom Harry’s brother – what exactly was the point of getting rid of one Evil Mr Harry, if you immediately replace him with another one who’s exactly the same?) are less forgiving, and that psychopath George can’t wait to frame/punish/persecute Drake for it, yet again, in the absence of any evidence whatsoever. FFS, George. Change. The. Record.

At least Elizabeth has enough shame left to try and stop him, thanks to Morwenna putting her straight about exactly what kind of monster Mr and Mrs Warleggan forced her to marry. But it doesn’t really help: Drake’s business is burned down, Rosina’s dad wants to kill him, and Morwenna is so traumatised she sends the poor boy packing and her mother-in-law tries to have him horse-whipped. So the prospects of a tender reunion for the widow Osborne and Carne the Younger are not great, and the likelihood of one or both of them being unjustly prosecuted for murdering the Reverend seems pretty high. Especially if his appalling mother has anything to do with it. Oh dear. Thank goodness for Ross and Demelza’s very sweet, very brief reunion, or there might not have been any hope for love in this episode at all.

Public Service Announcement 25 of 2018: Picnic at Hanging Rock, Keeping Faith

I’m not entirely sure about this new adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Six episodes might not seem very much when we’re used to twenty-plus episode-a-season procedurals but when we’re talking about a story previously filmed and wrapped up in under two hours, six of them seems like overkill. In fairness, I don’t think I’ve actually ever made it through the iconic 1975 film – I’m sure I caught a little bit of it accidentally recently but the one time I remember actually sitting down to try and watch it was years before, when I was quite young and also scared OUT. MY. MIND. I was so freaked out, I couldn’t finish the film. Which I think is the best compliment I can pay it, so this new version has a lot to live up to if it’s going to try and match the woozy, dream-like creepiness of its predecessor. The new one does however have Natalie Dormer, who was terrific in both Game of Thrones and The Fades, so that’s a big plus in its favour. And, unlike the first time I tried to watch the film, I now know it’s not based on a true story so there’s a slightly better chance of me a) not hiding from my tv in terror and b) still being able to sleep after I watch it. So, weighing up all these factors in highly scientific “it’s summer, might as well” fashion, I’m going to try episode 1 at least. 9pm tonight (Wednesday) on BBC2 if you want to join me.

From one female-centric mystery to another, albeit significantly less other-worldly, one, meanwhile: BBC Wales’s Keeping Faith is finally getting a proper showing across the rest of the country after its hugely successful runs on Welsh tv (in Welsh on S4C as Une Bore Mercher and in English on BBC1 Wales) and smashing UK iPlayer records all over the place. I’m one of the millions of people who heard about it by word-of-mouth and ended up devouring it on iPlayer as a result, and although I didn’t love the ending (a new season has been commissioned, fear not), I thoroughly enjoyed the rest of it. Eve Myles is superb at the centre of it all (her gorgeous yellow raincoat is almost a character in itself), the story is very twisty and turny (if not always 100% plausible), and the Welsh scenery is breathtaking. If you haven’t caught it already then, now’s your chance – 9pm tomorrow (Thursday) on BBC1 everywhere. Yay!

Private Eyes s2 ep 14

“Leroy’s missing!” “Leroy….your colleague?……Boyfriend?” “No! Leroy’s an octopus!”

Of course he is. But more to the point, he’s an exceptionally rare and special octopus, his possible future wife Sally (an octopus celebrity in her own right) is on her way from Oz to join him, and frantic top marine biologist Dr Sila Mazhari desperately needs Shade and Angie to bring him back safe and save the world! Well, OK, not the world. But the species!

To add some extra-personal stakes to all of this, Sila is Maz’s not-so-little-sister and isn’t currently talking to him/ vice versa, Shade keeps accidentally bidding on Bengal tiger puppies and Jules has taken to keeping the Shade house mouse (ew) in a food container which she should now burn (after setting the mouse free somewhere very far from the house, I’m not a monster) while she frets about Italy and Liam some more. None of this will make any sense if you haven’t watched this episode, so you absolutely should. It’s completely delightful, and it’s full of warmth and love. Much like octopuses and their three hearts, as Shade might say. Bless.

Poldark s4 ep 4

*SPOILERS*

This week’s episode opens with some charming family funtime as the Enyses and the Nampara Poldarks lark around on a lovely Cornish beach. It’s obvious from poor Dr Dwight’s haunted face that the laughs aren’t going to last very long, though. You know it’s a grim week when a mining disaster qualifies as light relief: a flood means terrible danger for everyone in the mine including our hero and all his pals, but it does also mean some very impressive Poldark heroics, excellent supporting work from Sam and a nigh-on miraculous save from Dr Dwight who is determined to save somebody’s life, since a tragic congenital heart defect means he can’t save his baby daughter’s.

It’s a desperately sad story, played out in a series of heartbreaking scenes where Caroline insists on “taking it in her stride with all the dignity and stoicism of a lady of breeding, Ross tries to comfort the distraught Dwight, and Demelza’s own wounds from the loss of her child are re-opened. The funeral scenes are traumatic and Caroline separating from Dwight because she blames herself for their loss and can’t bear to be reminded of it is incredibly sad, even if he and Demelza can try and console each other while their spouses head for the big smoke.

As far as the rest of the episode goes, it’s more of the usual – precious little cheer to be found anywhere. Geoffrey Charles, bless him, is a change and a ray of light, but he can’t make up for yet more of the odious George who continues to plot and scheme and consolidate power. I’m sick of him and the enthusiastically complicit Elizabeth, who seems to have lost all finer feeling and will now happily let Cornwall burn as long as her weasel husband keeps her in frocks and jewellery. The unspeakable Osborne continues to torture poor Morwenna, meanwhile, and this week – oh God – tries to get her committed to an institution because she won’t have sex with him. Despite his own troubles, Dr Dwight is magnificent at giving this short shrift – only just stopping short of pointing out that a person not having sex with Osborne is a sign not of madness but of one hundred percent sanity – and even Dr Choake is pretty decent about the whole business. Morwenna’s still in real peril from her appalling spouse and his brutal mother though; I really hope Rowella’s husband sorts him sooner rather than later, or the rest of the season is going to be a difficult watch. If Drake could just wait a little bit longer…. I have a horrible feeling, given the Carne brothers romantic haplessness, that Osborne will not be killed till after Drake marries Rosina so everybody will still be almost as miserable than they are now. (But, on the upside, at least Osborne will be dead.)

Private Eyes s2 ep 13

This show is the highlight of my week.

At the end of a completely unconnected sting operation, Shade accidentally ends up being taken hostage and driving a murder suspect round Toronto in a taxi at gunpoint. As you do. Angie is frantic, Zoe is great, Nolan (boo!) and Maz (yay!) are more than decent, in fairness, but not entirely on board with how Everett Investigations likes to do things, and Shade is just lovely.

Of course, because this is the nicest show on tv – I know we keep saying it, but it’s true – things flip round a bit, the “killer” turns out to be nothing of the sort, and our heroes not only solve the case but turn the poor guy’s life back around as well. Awwww. AND Angie gets to kick some serious ass. YEAH.

I do feel we were cheated out of a proper Shangie hug, mind you. (I know she explained that she was tied up at first, but they cut the rope after that, didn’t they?) That shoulder squeeze did not count. But other than that minor disappointment – I mean, I would really have enjoyed a Shangie hug. Which lasted maybe a beat too long. With them staring intensely at each other for a second just before they were interrupted and pulled apart. Ok, yes, I have thought about this at some length. Er….. anyway, other than that “minor” disappointment, I have no complaints. “A Fare to Remember” (HEE) was funny, sweet, and a bit exciting – a little island of kindness and understanding in a world that sorely needs it. I loved it.