What’s on the telly?

A mixed bag this week, but I’m delighted to report that after episode four of After Life (Netflix), Mr Grigg and I are well and truly converted.

This black comedy written and starring Ricky Gervais has become a firm favourite in this household. Great writing, timing, characters and poignancy and some wonderful, laugh-out-loud lines. Swearing yes, but a series to treasure.

The newspaper office in which the Gervais character works reminds me of those I frequented back in the 80s. I do miss that black, quickfire humour. Still, you’d be lucky to find a newspaper office in a small town these days.

This week, here are three things we’ve been watching:

Bloodlands (BBC)

James Nesbitt stars in this twisting police thriller.

We’re now into episode two of this Sunday night police drama set in Northern Ireland. It’s a tense thriller, produced by Line of Duty creator Jed Mercurio. After a former senior IRA member, now a businessman, goes missing, connections are made into the disappearance of four people prior to the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. Inevitably for most police drama these days, one of the team has a personal link to the cold case. Already, there are a number of unexpected plot twists to keep us glued to our screens until the end of this four-part serial.

What’s to like: twisting and turning plot, the backdrop of the recent Troubles, evocative and desolate landscape.

What’s not to like: I’m not a James Nesbitt fan (sorry) so there’s that, an ever-increasing cast of villains is confusing, plot devices which are too obvious.

Mank (Netflix)

Gary Oldman turning his back on Amanda Seyfried. Is that a bonfire of the vanities in the background?

The true story of the man who wrote Citizen Kane, the classic film which is very much seen as the masterpiece of Orson Welles, as co-writer, director and leading actor. Our very own Gary Oldman takes the title role of Herman J Mankiewicz in a black and white film full of style, wisecracking dialogue and a cast of well-known actors, many of them young and British. The film is a stylish, fascinating study of the Hollywood of the 1930s. Beautifully directed and the acting of Amanda Seyfried, best known for her roles in the Mamma Mia!, is a revelation. I loved it, but not to be slipped into lightly if you don’t know Citizen Kane.

What’s to like: the acting (Tom Burke, he of Cormoran Strike fame, is a dead-ringer for Welles), the fast pace, the depiction of California in the 1940s.

What’s not to like: the flashbacks, some incoherent dialogue and lack of colour. Black and white is great to set the scene but I would have liked the film to become colour imperceptibly after about twenty minutes.

Capone (Netflix)

The trouser-soiling gangster in an illuminating moment.

I was attracted to this film drama because Tom Hardy is in the lead role. ‘Who the hell’s Tom Hardy?’ Mr Grigg said. I tried to explain, using a loud one-tone, shouty Tom Hardy voice and then going on about Taboo and all that but he was still none the wiser (we should be on Gogglebox). He said Hardy looked more like a purple potato which Jamie Oliver suggests you put in focaccia. So then all I could think of what the focaccia are we watching this for? It’s pretty grim, focusing on a syphilitic Al Capone remembering his glory days. We gave up and switched to something equally terrible called Project Power starring Jamie Foxx. We suffered ten minutes of that and grabbed the remote to instead watch two more episodes of After Life.

What’s to like: the prospect of gazing at Tom Hardy, the lure of an Al Capone biopic, the potential of all those Mafia family relationships.

What’s not to like: Tom Hardy masquerading as a purple potato, incoherent dialogue, rambling scene setting.

Oxford yah

I’ve had the jab! And immediately felt guilty because people older than me haven’t had it yet.

But I’ve got a dodgy ticker – heart attack on Brexit referendum day just as the Sunderland results came through – so I guess there are some perks to being in a ‘higher risk’ category.

It was almost like a social occasion on Friday evening as I joined the zig-zagging queue at the side of the medical centre. The Disney ride It’s A Small World came to mind not because the queue was so long and quick but I kept seeing people I knew. I recognised the eyes behind the masks.

It’s a small world after all…

The volunteer stewards were doing a marvellous job, with a heart-warming, cheerful manner and smiley faces. No officiousness here. Thank you, ladies and gents, for giving up your time to do this. You rock.

Inside the medical centre, I was directed to one of two queues and kept looking at the other one which seemed to be going quicker than mine, as it always does in the supermarket, although I’ve not been to one of those much in recent months.

Again, medical centre staff were smiley and cheerful and not looking remotely harassed. Thank you, thank you. You rock.

And then it was into the consulting room for a quick chat, exposure of my shoulder and then the injection with the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine. Simple as that.

On the one-way system on the way out a very nice lady told me I could wait in the heated marquee while Mr Grigg arrived to pick me up.

‘No point in hunting for his car in the cold,’ she said.

And then I recognised the eyes. She and I used to be on the Parent Teacher Association at the local comprehensive.

A quick chat and effusive thank yous on my part and then it was a short stay in the marquee before Mr Grigg picked me up.

My arm was sore straight away and I had a few odd aches and pains yesterday, but nothing really to speak of. It was a good excuse, though, to curl up with a good book, a dog by my side and a cup of tea on the coffee table.

The light at the end of the tunnel is brighter now although we’re not through it yet. Thank you vaccine scientists. You rock.

Oxford yah.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

What’s on the telly?

This is my round-up of three things we watched on TV this week. I’d be interested to hear your recommendations.

Unforgotten, ITV

The brilliant Unforgotten is unforgettable.

The long-awaited fourth series of this excellent crime drama began this week. It focuses on cold cases, although I did wonder if this had been taken to the extreme when the investigation opens with a body found in a freezer. By the end of the first episode, the viewer learns there are a number of suspects in the running and what it is that connects them. It’s now up to the crime team to track down these people and build up a picture of what happened and who did it. Already, interesting sub-plots are beginning to develop, not least those involving the lead detective and her deputy.

What’s to like: the wonderful acting of Nicola Walker and Sanjeev Bhaskar – truly a police partnership made in Hendon – the many yet believable strands unravelling to reveal the layered storyline, and the victim placed sensitively at the story’s centre rather than added like some gruesome appendage.

What’s not to like: Nicola Walker’s mouth and witnessing the rapid mental deterioration of her father, played by Peter Egan. And why was the cold case team called to a crime scene which was not yet a cold case?

After Life, Netflix

Not sure if we should sit and stay yet.

This British black comedy was uncharted territory for us as Mr Grigg can’t stand Ricky Gervais. However, it’s been recommended by several people so we are now on episode number 3 of the first series. Gervais stars as an angry, foul-mouthed, suicidal features editor of a local newspaper who cannot come to terms with the death of his wife. Recurring characters and situations look set to provide continuity and light relief, although we’re not warming to it just yet. Some laugh out loud lines for sure, but quite a lot of that awkward feeling of unease you get when watching anything Gervais has written. (And in the past twenty years I have never seen a local newspaper office – especially one for a freebie – so well-staffed and unproductive.) Sorry, but the jury is still out.

What’s to like: local newspaper office banter, well-known British actors, characterisation.

What’s not to like: the continual use of the ‘C’ word and I don’t mean cancer, Ricky Gervais’s teeth, the dog’s diet.

News of the World, Netflix

An odyssey for one man and a little girl.

Call me old fashioned but I love a good Western. And this Western is definitely old fashioned. Anything in which Tom Hanks stars almost always guarantees quality and this film is no exception. Hanks plays an American Civil War veteran, now reading aloud stories from newspapers to paying customers in far-flung settlements. His trials begin when he decides to return a young girl taken in as an infant by Native Americans to her last remaining family. It’s a (mostly) gentle, epic journey that takes on mythic proportions as Hanks and the child travel across the country, encountering various obstacles along the way. Helena Zengel who plays the child is a joy to watch as her character unfolds. There might not be enough action in this film for some, but I found it breath-taking with its nods to modern themes of belonging, xenophobia and fake news.

What’s to like: beautiful cinematography, sterling performances, musical score.

What’s not to like: I liked it all.

An announcement

So we are waiting with bated breath for the prime minister’s announcement later this afternoon.

We’re being given a way out of this mess, with snippets already revealed on news bulletins. It will be slow and steady, I hope, but such a change after these terrible weeks of the third national lockdown when we have all been on rewind, repeat, rewind, repeat for far too long.

The slow trickle of things reopening will be alongside the spring springing. Oh to be outside in warm sunshine, birds chirping, flowers blooming and not stuck indoors or going out for a walk to just wade through mud.

It’s too wonderful to contemplate. I think this glimmer of hope has been keeping us all going. If a little spacecraft called Perseverance can make it to Mars and show us photographic evidence, we sure as hell can make it through this pandemic.

Max Richter’s To The Stars from Ad Astra. Great soundtrack, shame about the film.

So only a few more weeks or months then, perhaps, until things return to a kind of normal. And then it’ll be meeting family and friends in the garden instead of weekly quizzes and themed suppers over the internet.

I’m having my vaccination this Friday.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

What’s on the telly

This week we resorted to watching the wonderful comedy Hot Fuzz, which ranks as one of my top five favourite films. But then I’m odd like that.

The small town setting, the characters and the cracking script are just the antidote for lockdown blues (but a word of warning, please don’t watch it if you’re offended by swearing and over-the-top violence used for comedic effect.)

We also tuned into some stinky films on Netflix and wished we hadn’t bothered. Thank goodness the brilliant Unforgotten is returning to our terrestrial television screens next Monday. Can’t wait.

Here’s my round-up of telly viewing, from ITV, the BBC and Netflix.

The Serpent, BBC iPlayer

The charmless serpent eluded capture for so long.

This crime drama is based on the true story of a serial killer who preyed on backpackers on Asia’s hippy trail in the 1970s. The eight-part serial captures the coldness of the protagonist and the authorities’ indifference to his crimes. The script makes the most of pitting The Serpent against the chain-smoking Dutch diplomat whose painstaking work finally brought him to justice, creating a tension that perhaps might not have surfaced had the story been told in a purely linear fashion. We were hooked.

What’s to like: the 70s fashions, the dramatic tension, the exotic locations.

What’s not to like: the flashback narrative, the worry that the real-life killer is pleased everyone is now talking about him, the brutal horror of his crimes.

Us, BBC iPlayer

All in the eye of the beholder.

Author David Nicholls’ story of a mismatched couple whose marriage is falling apart. This sad yet funny drama sees fruit fly expert Douglas (played by Tom Hollander) and his art facilitator wife, Connie (Saskia Reeves), on a final fling, a ‘Grand Tour’ of Europe, with their teenage son in tow, headphones on his head and hormones raging. This four-part serial was also scripted by Nicholls, the author of One Day and screenwriter for the recent film version of Far From The Madding Crowd. A great script, as you’d expect, and a thoughtful, sensitive telling of a doomed relationship but with laughs and great set-piece scenes thrown in.

What’s to like: lovely locations, great script and acting squeezing out the comedy and pathos of family dynamics, evocative recreation of Douglas and Connie when they first met.

What’s not to like: the inevitable sadness to come, the reminder that teenagers aren’t interested in history.

What Happened to Monday, Netflix

Just wait until you get to Thursday.

This science fiction action film is set in a dystopian yet not-too-distant, overpopulated future when families are limited to one child each. Siblings are rounded up, ostensibly to be put to sleep and woken when things get better. The Monday of the title is the first of seven identical sisters (all played by Noomi Rapace) who are named after the days of the week and kept hidden in a top-floor apartment by their grandfather (Willem Dafoe). The girls are smart and learn to live their lives by going out only on their allocated day of the week, pretending to be the same person. But the story becomes silly, with lots of look-away violence, and there are enough plot holes to sink a movie. By the end of it, we really didn’t know what day of the week it was.

Things to like: the plausibility of the premise, a female lead outwitting the world, the baddie played by a chilling Glenn Close.

Things not to like: Glenn Close’s face, gory violence, hammy script.

The greater good

This lockdown business is getting incredibly tedious. I’ll be glad when we can come out of it, although not if it risks undoing all the good that’s been done, what with the vaccine and all.

I’m usually a very positive person and don’t dwell on things for too long for fear of being sucked into a big black hole. I am not a worrier, as worrying never did anyone any good. It’s a pretty useless emotion in my book.

My solution has been to throw myself into things, keeping busy, beating against the current and believing in Gatsby’s green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us.

But, with that grey sky and rain out there and every day, the same old, same old, it’s enough to drag down the most optimistic of souls.

There’s been no Sound of Music Through The Square Window this time around. Instead, I’ve been running a weekly quiz on Zoom. It lasts only half an hour, as I’m too tight to pay for the professional version and, besides, there is only so much enforced frivolity any of us can take.

The link to tonight’s quiz has been published on the world wide web so if the participants include a person playing with themselves in Poland or a chap cavorting in Cambodia, well, that should liven up the proceedings.

In the meantime, I’ve lit three Positive Vibe incense sticks in the house to mask the smell of savoury pancakes from last night. And, once this evening’s quiz is over, I plan to watch Hot Fuzz for the millionth time as Mr Grigg and I need a good belly laugh.

‘No luck catching them swans then?’ ‘It’s just the one swan, actually.’

The way I see it, it’s all for the greater good.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

Chicken Run

It was a relaxing kind of Sunday at home, as the rain poured down outside. The weather didn’t really matter as, it being lockdown, we weren’t going anywhere anyway.

‘There’s a film on the telly you’ll like,’ Mr Grigg shouted from the front room, just as I was about to immerse myself in a good book.

The novel was already beginning to irritate me because a character had just said ‘hey’ instead of ‘hi’, ‘you guys’ instead of ‘you two’ and were appealing the decision rather than appealing against it.

And this was only the first page.

On page two, someone was talking about an invite rather than an invitation. Before blowing a gasket, I decided it was time to put down the book and watch the telly instead.

The film Mr Grigg had just paused for me to watch was Chicken Run. Made by Aardman Animations in 2000, it’s one of my favourite films. I recall watching it on a big screen at an open air showing many moons ago in the gardens overlooking the sea at Lyme Regis.

So I put down the book and arrived in the front room just as the two rats, Fetcher and Nick – voiced by Phil Daniels and Timothy Spall – deliver my favourite line:

Sitting there watching Ginger and the hapless Rocky, I was transported back to the days when I was a local newspaper editor, concealing our scoops from the sister – and rival – publication that demanded feeding every day. I’d wait until the very last minute to put any front page material on the shared electronic system so that our stablemate’s newdesk would be unable to pinch it before we’d come out in print.

On the day I left for pastures new in NHS communications, one of my members of staff said: ‘Do you know who you remind me of?’

I had no idea.

‘Ginger from Chicken Run,’ she said.

How could being compared to a cartoon hen be a compliment? She saw my perplexed expression and added, quickly: ‘You’re smart, kind, determined, resourceful and do everything you can to protect the flock. You’ve always got our back.’

It brought tears to my eyes. It was the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me at work.

I thanked her for her sweetness and then left, quiet like. Like a fish.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

What’s on the telly?

Here’s my weekly threesome of what we’ve watched over the past seven days.

Military Wives, Netflix

Feel-good comedy drama, something we could all do with right now.

I’d avoided this film so far, expecting it to be a rather twee take on the true story of the Military Wives choir. It’s the kind of comedy drama perfect for an afternoon showing at the Lush Places film club. Gentle, undemanding and very, well, British. Having grown tired of Mr Grigg’s recent choices of all-action films featuring wooden male leads, extensive military hardware and lots of blood, I plumped for this. And we were very glad I did. The ice queen character of Kristin Scott Thomas thawed as the film went on, and provides great dramatic contrast to her nemesis played by Sharon Horgan. The film is a feel-good, moving movie, revealing the healing power of music and how women can be so much stronger when they work together.

What’s to like: female camaraderie, the joy of singing, Greg Wise in uniform.

What’s not to like: stereotypical characters, predictable, undemanding.

The Masked Singer, ITV

Who’s that behind the mask? asks Rita Ora.

The latest series of this lowbrow yet cult TV show comes to an end tomorrow. Thank God for that, some of you will be thinking. Indeed. Light entertainment, especially when it comes to so-called celebrities, usually leaves me cold. Gone are the days when a good Saturday night in meant watching Blankety Blank and The Generation Game. However, we watched this a few weeks ago after hearing that former England footballer and manager Glenn Hoddle had been unmasked as the voice behind the Grandfather Clock. We found ourselves tuning into the show the following week . Late arrivals to the ball but we’re hooked. It’s a completely bonkers show, in which a panel of judges have to guess the celebrity singer behind the outrageous costume. The participant with the fewest votes is unmasked at the end of each episode. The celebrities are people you have actually heard of, such as Lenny Henry,  Morten Harket from Norwegian pop band A-ha, Scary Spice and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. So who will be the winner of the Masked Singer? Tune in tomorrow night to find out.

What’s to like: family viewing, singing, amazing costumes.

What’s not to like: celebrity TV, the cut-away sequences to the annoying judges, the ‘take it’ off chant which sounds like the chorus to a gang bang.

Marcella, ITV Hub

Who’s that behind the new hairstyle? asks no-one, ever.

We very much enjoyed the first two series of this crime thriller in which Anna Friel reprises her role as the emotionally-damaged and blackout-suffering police officer, Marcella. This time, she is in Northern Ireland, working undercover, investigating a crime family led by Amanda Burton, whose trademark scowling smugness annoyed me so much I wanted someone to kick away her walking stick, especially as she clearly doesn’t need it, scuttling along as she does like a mountain gazelle in sensible shoes. After multiple killings in the first quarter of an hour of the programme, we managed to sit through the opening episode to its conclusion. We felt we had to, if nothing else but as a mark of respect for ITV Drama which has brought us some thrilling belters in recent years. At the end of the programme, we looked at each other and agreed this latest series of Marcella was so ludicrously far-fetched with so much blood and nastiness we wouldn’t bother watching the rest of the series. So there.

What’s to like: twisting and twisted plot, constant surprises.

What’s not to like: dead body count, Marcella’s accent, lack of empathy with characters.

A round-up of my television reviews can be found on the What’s on the telly? page of this website.

Swing out, sister

I was expecting snow up on the hill this morning, or at least a view from the summit of the wonderful wintry landscape below.

The light was fantastic but, apart from a few snowy roads and rooftops in the village, the blizzard had passed us by.

Bluebell Hill hit the local social media headlines this week after it was reported that vandals had cut down all the rope swings hanging from the trees.

I suspect, looking at how high up the ropes have been severed and the spoils removed, that it’s probably the work of a National Trust ranger – not in killjoy mode but exercising a duty of care. I know of at least one child, now a grown man, who suffered multiple bone breaks on one of these makeshift swings.

The landowners are between a rock and a hard place. If they take the swings down, they’re being mean. If they leave them up and someone has a nasty accident, well, they could be liable.

With the hill busier than ever – there are even people from Bridport up there at weekends, for goodness sake – the number of swings has increased. The National Trust describe the hill as the most remote place in the county. But unless you’re up there first thing, it doesn’t feel like it.

But as quickly as the swings have gone, they will no doubt return. They always do.

I sat on one this morning which had clearly been missed from the swing cull.

In other news, Mr Grigg has been called for his Covid-19 vaccine today. Yippee!

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x

What’s on the telly?

As a child of 1960s popular culture, the telly was my babysitter.

(Sorry, Mum, but while you were out milking the cows with Dad, my big brother and I were fighting over which TV programme to watch. As he was six years older than me, he called the shots.)

I am told the first tune I ever hummed was the Coronation Street theme, which is funny because I was always under the impression we weren’t allowed to watch ITV because it was too common.

From the children’s television of Animal Magic, Follyfoot and Here Come The Double Deckers to sitting with my dad and watching Dave Allen, Tales of the Unexpected and boxing with Harry Carpenter, telly was my fix.

In between, there’d be pop music bellowing out all over the house via the radio and record player, courtesy of my four older siblings, and storytelling in the form of Don Quixote from my older sister, with whom I shared not only a bedroom but also a bed.

I still love reading and listening to music and the telly is up there in the corner, sitting on the throne of all that is good and bad in the world.

During lockdown, especially this winter, the television has been the one thing that has kept me sane, while all the while driving me mad.

We’ve binged-watched Netflix shows, argued over what film to see next and dipped our toes into more documentaries than we could shake a stick at.

I know what I like. And what I don’t like.

And now, every Friday, I’m planning to give you my take on what’s good – and not so good – to watch on the box at the moment. I’d love it if you could give me your recommendations, too. Just hop across to the What’s on the telly page.

That’s about it.

Love, Maddie x