22/07/2019

Review Round Up- Midsomer Murders, The Kid, How to be an ex Prime Minister

The Midsomer Murders episode `Talking to the Dead` was recently shown on ITV3 as part of that channel’s seemingly endless trawl through the ITV detective archive and what a splendid episode it is. It takes a series of incidents that could easily nestle into a horror film and runs them past the viewer who, if you go with it, will enjoy it tremendously. Its not social commentary we might be familiar with but it taps into rural superstitions and folklore. First shown in 2009, events are vividly realised by director Sarah Hellings’ use of shots of creaking trees at every opportunity and a pale palette that brings out the autumnal. Its the time of year when all Midsomer Murders should really be made and the perfect setting for a tale of a supposedly haunted woods and a pile up of several bodies announced in gruesome style. One of the signatures of the series used to be (they’ve cut back on this more recently) that it ventured as near as it could to fantasy before explaining the melodrama in practical terms. This episode does is as well as any.


Take character’s forays into the woods which are accompanied by unsettling atmospherics and the sudden arrival of fog wafting into the picture, not uncommon signatures of spooky woods in tv shows but normally they’re cooked up solely for the viewer’s benefit, a sort of visual representation of the unease a character is feeling. Here though these things are what the characters are actually experiencing while for our added benefit come sequences of monks being slain by soldiers on horseback. There’s a sepia wash to these images suggesting we’re peeking back into a gory history. The double gag however is that these special effects are being conjured by one of the characters to scare folks away playing on a well- known local legend.
The story isn’t done with its layering there though. For we also have a Germanic soothsayer whose stated aim to free lost souls is hampered by the fact he becomes number one suspect in Inspector Barnaby’s- and in our- head because, well, he’s a satanic type who favours sulphur and red robes and we know what they’re like. Pitted against him is another hell fire character in the form of a local priest who is want to preach on the man street or stride into the woods with a large gold crucifix and a bible. It helps that these two are played with relish by Dutch actor Jeroen KrabbĂ© and the one and only Anton Lesser who is capable of bringing verisimilitude to even the most odd character. Within half an hour I was already imagining a flat share comedy in which the duo could further expand these already twice as large as life characters. The final twist though suggests that there was something after all in the visions and gives the series probably its best ever episode ending. Even Barnaby looks baffled.
Twist three revolves around the man who turns out to be the real murderer. Having kicked off with four people seemingly going missing from a couple of cottages the investigation ultimately leads to two bodies and a third man who seems to have gone crazy and is speaking in tongues. He keeps this up for so long that everyone, including professionals believe it is genuine. Wise old owl Barnaby – whose ability to see through even the most convincing ruse is admirable- realises that the man is faking leading to his sudden return to normal behaviour. Well as normal as admitting he chucked his wife down a well several days ago. She’s ok by the way, well as ok as someone whose husband threw her down a well after killing their neighbours might be. 
The production is tightly assembled with none of the slightly wandering mid section that affects some episodes and despite a relatively small cast there is never a dull moment and frequently you’ll be thinking `how crazy can this go`? The duo of John Nettles and Jason Hughes are probably the best combo the series had leading it; as in many an episode we have examples of Hughes’ DI Ben Jones being made to do the less pleasant donkey work – here he is sent up a tree from which he ends up dangling. By this stage- we’re a decade into the series –Nettles’ Barnaby was becoming more like a benign spectre as he oversaw the misrule and seemed to be enjoying the ride. Even with this darker tale there is space for levity such as the moment when Barnaby slams the door of an iron maiden shut not knowing Jones is inside. Clearly the junior officer is not going to meet a grisly end but the expression on his face when the device is re-opened shows a programme confident enough to add a tinge of macabre to even its lighter elements.


2018 film The Kid revisits the familiar cat and mouse game between Wild West legends Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid albeit through the prism of a young boy and his sister fleeing a violent family incident. They take shelter in a seemingly deserted shack only to find themselves in the company of notorious outlaw Billy and his gang, while Garrett and posse are outside guns a-blazin`(best line- “You shot a horse. Who does that?”)  What follows is in the tradition of modern Westerns which strive to be something more than shoot outs and hard edged characters.
Vincent D’Onofrio proves to be as strong behind the camera as he is in front of it giving his directorial debut an auteur’s stamp along with Mathew Lloyd’s lavish cinematography. They bring the landscape to life using real locations from what is essentially historic fact with extra characters dropped in to established events. As Billy, Dane De Haan is fantastic showing layers that move from charm to defiance to fear and makes a convincing case for the outlaw as hero despite all he has done. Matching him Ethan Hawke’s Garrett is a doggedly determined man yet not without humanity. Together they make this film worth seeing aided by a very strong cast notably Jake Schur as young Rio, Leila George as his older sister Sara, a truly cast against type Chris Pratt as their vicious uncle and D’Onofrio himself as the Sheriff.
The action is fast, sudden and superbly filmed yet the most important moments often come as more meditative and philosophical. Perhaps a little more might have been added to Rio’s narrative as it is his evolving view of both legends we share but overall this is a compact, well shot and very well acted addition to the genre.


It’s a shame they haven’t updated Michael Cockerall’s 2007 documentary How to Be an Ex-Prime Minister though it does remind you that PMs of old seemed slightly larger than life figures compared with the more recent occupants of Number Ten.  Made just as Tony Blair was leaving and shown tonight on BBC4 the fascinating film looks at what PMs did after they left office. Though Anthony Eden and Alec Douglas Home are left out for some reason we track down from Winston Churchill through to John Major and find that whatever they did or may say most of them would have leapt at the opportunity to go back. Harold MacMillan – who sounds incredibly posh- even seemed to believe he might do just that in the 70s.
There’s some great footage of old interviews and a get together at Number Ten as Cockerall tries to discover what they all did, how they lived and how much hassle they gave their successors. Memoirs, sniping in the press or lucrative lecture tours seem to be the order of the day though its alarming to discover Ted Heath was technically homeless when he resigned.
There are some fascinating clips including a latter day Thatcher still bitter about her departure and Harold Wilson hosting a tv chat show! Some seemed to find contentment; we see James Callaghan talking about delivering sheep on his farm and John Major going to a cricket match the same day he resigned. Of all of them Major seems the most adjusted; just contrast his answer about not having all the information with Thatcher’s post PM attitude or Heath’s perpetual sulk. Cheeky of BBC4 to screen this the evening before Theresa May’s final day as PM but probably worth her watching it.

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