British “War” Miniseries
by Kristin Battestella
These relatively recent but limited edition British originals, revivals, and adaptations provide succinct yet no less heavy contemporary gang wars, World War II legacies, and interwar turmoils.
Archangel – Professor 007 Daniel Craig is tracing lost Stalin documents in this three part 2005 adaptation opening with 1953 deathbeds, period patinas, and choice reds before modern day Moscow presentations and protests. The culture contrasts are immediately apparent with western intellectual hobnobbing, conversations in both English and Russian, and elder comrades living in the past with their communist nostalgia while the young don't need lectures on their own history. The past, however, feels very present with card catalogs, records, big computers, and buried tool boxes that may hold million dollar evidence – sending our scholar digging where perhaps he shouldn't. This looks its age yet seems older, fittingly behind the times of a society at a crossroads. Increasing snow, desolate highways, and hidden tunnels add to the pursuits on the street, tailing cars, mobs at the payphone, tangles with the police, and bodies in the bathtub. Shadowy KGB remnants and FSB intelligence join the pesky reporter and cutthroat academics while the sad, regular folks ruined by the old regime just want the past to stay dead as outsiders throw the monsters back at them for a scoop. Touches of humor and charm alleviate the official Soviet seals, more behind closed doors flashbacks, and titular travels amid talk of radiation check ins and nuclear leaks as the race leads to a brisk wilderness and secret forest compounds. Of course, no one really bundles up for the weather and brief scenes away from Craig are less interesting, for his academia comes in handy at dusty libraries and his preachy British point of view creates relevant sociopolitical debates as he himself changes from seeking glory to protecting information. Was the past pride better than the so called free market organized crime and rich oligarchy today? Is this an elaborate set up with hopes of a return to Soviet form? Stubborn old believers still send in their party donations – leading to messianic pride, urban chases, and snowy shootouts. A desperate people will believe what they want to hear, but tender moments, animal traps, and cold river escapes from the embodiment of the old regime keep the plot personal amid an international what if. While there are too many comings and goings up and down staircases, there's also a Hitchcockian thriller tone with trains, a happenstance everyman. And a tough dame caught up in all the intrigue. However, the ending here is unfortunately very rushed – the building of the case is longer than the resolution and the abrupt finale doesn't resolve what happens next either personally or globally. Fortunately, the shocking conclusion sparks plenty of debate, and this is an interesting series to revisit amid our current political climate.
The Fear – Although the older smartphones and technology uses are a little dated, vendetta damaged hotels covered in ghostly construction plastic and burned out art galleries match The Who ringtones as illness sours patriarch Peter Mullan's (Top of the Lake) criminal enterprise in this 2012 quartet. The seaside rides, Brighton Pier restoration plans, and windswept surf should be fun, but the bleak nighttime waves, empty boardwalks, and gang controlled clubs create a shady mood. Sons, drug deals, foreign hookers, drinking, and blackouts interfere with the lavish, almost respectable lifestyle, and unexplained injuries lead to burning bodies on the beach and wondering what the rotary club would think if they knew. This is Richie's town – such a proud man, strong father, and tough crime lord cannot show weakness. Unfortunately, new enemies won't wait on big business mergers, and one reckless son ditching family for the perks of European connections escalates to gory payback. When pitiful slip ups force the old man to tell the cops he doesn't know or has no memory of an assault, he's not lying and truly can't recall. He hesitates with cover up responses, talking himself up and reminding his sons he doesn't answer to them. A brief narration sounds meta crazy – waxing on dementia versus normality, knowing you're losing it yet not admitting it. Distorted bookends and visual disconnects reflect the couple on opposite sides of the upscale foyer with up close camera frames and out of focus tracking shots. Former friends now doctors make for disagreeable trips down memory lane, but the gang competition is going poorly and so is golfing with the mayor. The local authorities aren't exactly thrilled with this turf war! Sensible son Harry Lloyd (Game of Thrones) tries to clean up the mess and act as the go between for his strained parents, realizing his dad has had his day. Sadly, he can't talk his way out of this battle and pays dearly, letting the trauma fester without saying anything. I can't stop thinking about that nasty humiliation scene, and though he pops up in a lot of smaller roles, Lloyd really should be a leading man more. Anastasia Hille (The Missing) is also impressive in the difficult position as Richie's wife, the only person who can help her ill husband but has been through too much already. Who isn't handling the bads or doesn't have a mental problem denials create helpless moments of compassion. How can one make real estate negotiations when he can't remember what's past or present? Memories and reality blur together as guilt contributes to the mental deterioration. Losing one's grip on reality is bad enough without an idiot son thinking he can rent guns and return them after the crime's done, and oi, don't put the severed head on the counter top it goes in the freezer next to the bag of peas! Pieces of agreements are being done without others, but you can't deal with drug lords when you have a doctor's appointment. Who's going to roll over into this deeper and deeper hole next? Shootouts spiral out of control, and police are afoot thanks to uncovered graves and get out of Dodge warnings. Rival fathers and sons each pay for their sins in an unspoken religious vein and abstract what ifs. Who's incompetent fault is this and if Richie wasn't ill would he be able to assure his legacy? Some may find the crook's downfall themes tame, but this performance driven rather than shock of the week parable isn't meant for the in your face action eighteen to thirty-four audience. If you're expecting wham bam you won't find it in this mature reflection. This is uncomfortable to watch and not for everyone because it is so realistically depressing. There may not be a lot of repeat value as the story is at times thin, and nasty though they are, the Eastern European villains are nondescript thugs with slurs to match. Despite several nominations, this deserved more awards and audience recognition – how did this take five years to garner stateside streaming? Fortunately, Mullan is delightful as this gruff but bittersweet crime lord losing his mind, and the superb family drama peaks with a lovely finale.
A Tough Call
Upstairs Downstairs – This 2010 revival created by Heidi Thomas (Call the Midwife) starts promisingly as a new family at 165 Eaton Place brushes shoulders with royalty and fascism in its First three part series. Our house goes from shuttered and abandoned to colorful and hiring new staff with Jean Marsh as returning housekeeper Rose Buck. Initially time moves fast, with mirror glances of a growing pregnancy indicating months passed and announcements on the death of one king and the abdication of another perfectly encapsulating everything in between. Empirical wrongs, loyal secretaries, and upper class eccentricities are acknowledged alongside budding Nazism, local protests, a fleeing Jewish maid, and a mute orphan – scandals the warmhearted and charming but slightly inefficient household can't always handle but braves nonetheless. Who’s in charge anyway? Is it wife Keeley Hawes (MI-5), her diplomat husband Ed Stoppard (Home Fires), or his dowager mother Dame Eileen Atkins (Cranford)? Above and below both gather around the radio or trim the Christmas tree together, aiding in problems big or small. So what if it's sir and madam or mister and miss; the biggest secret one can reveal is sharing one's given Christian name! Audiences don't need to know the Original seventies series inside out to marathon this Initial leg. However, the six hour 2012 Second season handles cast departures while introducing rogue aunt Alex Kingston (Doctor Who) amid 1938 broadcasts, gas masks, air raid drills, and sandbags on the door step. The bleak preparations recall the hefty prices already paid in The Great War, with opinions past and present dividing the house top to bottom. Characters below grow and change, doing their part in the face of war with well done period lesbian affairs and scandalous novels upstairs. Diplomacy both foreign and domestic is failing as famous jazz, flavorful nightclubs, servant balls, picture shows, and glamorous frocks have their last hurrah. We’ve had conflicts and live in hotbed times, but today's generation perhaps can't fully comprehend how those reluctantly bracing for II were not so far removed from I. Sadly, unnecessary abortion subplots and young JFK mingling hamper the intriguing high and low family versus employer loyalty. Duke of Kent Blake Ritson (Da Vinci's Demons) and Stoppard's Hallam look and behave too Talented Mr. Ripley latent, and the palace hobnobbing wastes time as the upheavals progress toward war. Superfluous bad sister Claire Foy's (The Crown) torrid is especially uneven amid more important conscription and war training, and the series is best when focusing on rescuing Jewish children, visa technicalities, and whether Britain will isolate itself from the refugees and turmoil in Europe – topics unfortunately relevant again. Who has time to worry about what society thinks of lame affairs and forced marital rifts in times like this? Classism snobbery runs the increasingly undermined leads into the ground, as our man of the house diplomat is so stiff upper lip worried about their reputation – yet its his ineffectual politics and can't keep it together at home embarrassing his address most. He's going to have to man up and answer his own door, O.M.G! Year Two should have been another three episode war imminent arc, for the soap opera shoehorning backs the quality drama into a contrived corner with nowhere left to go. Pity.