Review Round Up- Endeavour S6, Anna & the Apocalypse, Inside the Factory
Though at first it seemed like an unnecessary addendum to a franchise that had already continued beyond the demise of its principal character Endeavour has turned out to be quite a gem. Its 1960s setting allows for it to be both historical and have contemporary resonances within a decade rich with storytelling potential. As well as this it has two leads whose performances are amongst the best in tv today. While Morse enthusiasts no doubt scour every episode for links and references to the original series (of which apparently there are several) many of us simply enjoy the quality of the stories, setting and acting. Even the fact that our knowledge of the original series tells us that several characters are clearly not in mortal danger doesn’t detract from the tense scenarios writer Russell Lewis dreams up.
From the start Endeavour contained connections from one episode to the next but lately these have been increased so season six which premiered earlier this year has a constant undercurrent leading on from a shock death at the end of the previous season. It’s a tale of deeply rooted political corruption in which it is difficult to know who to trust and what their motives are. The ramifications of the previous season and also a series of police mergers have flung the principals apart and over the four episodes a grim reality sets in. If the opening sequence recreating a Sixties safety advert for Pelican crossings with Bright and an actual pelican suggests a levity, this is as light as it gets. Darker colours and dingier offices suggest the promise of the Sixties is coming to an end- we’re in 1969 now- and it soon becomes clear that Fred Thursday is in trouble.
It is true that almost every season has us thinking this will be the end of Thursday’s career and somehow the old fellow pulls it back but here matters seem far worse. Once again Roger Allam gives a performance that makes stillness a virtue while managing to convey conflicting emotions at once. It really is a masterclass in television acting. Shaun Evans’ Morse is now showing signs of the character’s later steeliness more frequently. The clever way both actor and writers have suggested John Thaw when there isn’t a large physical resemblance is another triumph.
The plots touch on the year- notably an episode called `Apollo`- without overdoing either nostalgia or revisionism. We remain resolutely in period allowing the viewer to draw parallels with more recent events which is frequently possible. Despite four separate stories the corruption strands become more prevalent leading to a confrontation in the fourth episode that brings to mind a Western shoot- out. Does Fred come good in the end? You’ll have to watch it yourself to find out- and you really should.
Zombie themed entertainment has offered a surprisingly varied palette over the years ranging from the intense seriousness of The Walking Dead or World War Z to the humour of the likes of Shaun of the Dead. The nearest we’ve come to a zombie musical (Zomusical?) is Chas n Dave’s theme song for the film Cockneys vs Zombies - “we’re going head to head, with the undead”. Anna and the Apocalypse attempts to place the sort of songs you’d hear in any modern musical into a scenario involving the end of the world. If it sounds like an awkward fit, at times it is yet you have to admire the results. The film deals with an unexplained breakout of a plague that turns most people into zombies in what appears to be urban Scotland. Plus there are the songs, well constructed from the Greatest Showman mould of optimism and internal thoughts. It’s a bit disappointing that the zombies themselves don’t get their own number though.
Matters are slowly kicked off by focussing on the main relationships while showing fleeting glimpses of what is really happening. There’s an interesting juxtaposition too of these very American sounding songs being performed with gusto in less shiny Scottish dining rooms and corridors than the places you’d normally see them. The film’s funniest scene occurs when Anna (Ella Hunt) sings her way through a new morning unaware of the carnage happening steps behind her! Its a riff on a similar (non musical) sequence in Shaun of the Dead but even more ambitiously staged here. Are today’s kids so self absorbed underneath their earphones and hoods that they wouldn’t notice a plague of zombies? Maybe!
It’s a pleasant surprise to find the ubiquitous Mark Benton singing (very well) but a less welcome one to watch Paul Kaye rather overdoing things as a steely headmaster with an enormous beard representing a certain loosening of the discipline that makes the first two thirds of the film more satisfying than the last third. The story writers are not afraid to despatch key characters in grisly ways but they can also bring out silliness in such a dark scenario. It takes considerable creative edge to make this work and for the most part it does.
As matters progress though it is telling that the better sequences are when the characters are on their own away from the monsters. It makes you think this might have been a better film with a less prolific threat (say an alien in the school) because every time we get somewhere with the emotional or relationship side of things, those zombies wander on and spoil everything. I suppose that’s the point. This is a bold and well produced movie that is certainly worth seeing but don’t expect a slew of monster musicals any time soon.
Sometimes Greg Wallace appears so excited over a conveyer belt of biscuits or a vat of liquid that it looks as if he could explode! The BBC’s Inside the Factory series shows perfectly how to combine entertainment and facts; exactly what the Corporation was originally created for. The premise is simple- Masterchef’s pudding aficionado Greg is taken around a factory to see each stage of the process that goes into creating something. He strikes up a genial repartee with whoever is accompanying him and despite having been around four series worth of places still seems to be thrilled by the sight of hundreds of items whizzing through a sorter or being toppled into a vat. His enthusiasm means that the series never gets bogged down in too much detail. Channel Five do a similar programme but without a presenter we’re left with the more serious tone of an unseen narrator. Its not nearly as much fun.
The presentation style of Inside the Factory also makes it more likely you’ll remember key facts and figures while marvelling at the ingenuity of how these machines came to be created. As well as Gregg you also have Cherry Healey investigating related matters- usually ending up trying a sample of something- and Ruth Goodman who explains how the item being made originated. It’s an excellent package that has so far covered produce including crisps, bread, beer, waffles, tea bags, pizza, sausages as well as non food items like bicycles, toilet rolls and shoes.