Monthly Archives: December 2014

Highlights of 2014

I want to share my personal cultural highlights of the year, especially when living in the capital where so much goes on and so many opportunities are around to visit the theatre, the cinema, and exhibitions (I haven’t done many this year, so I haven’t ranked them).  I don’t work in this field (I’m a senior manager in academic libraries), but I like to see as much as possible, and with the BFI Southbank, the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre, and the Barbican, we are extremely lucky, as well as being able to make the occasional excursion into the expensive West End.


1 The Crucible, at the Old Vic.  Richard Armitage was superb as John Proctor in Arthur Miller’s still-powerful play.

2 Ballyturk, at the National Theatre.  This divided audiences but I really liked it and came away thinking about Enda Walsh’s absurb creation for a long time afterwards.

3 Happy Days, at the Young Vic.  Juliet Stevenson was heartbreaking as Winnie in the Samuel Beckett classic.  More Beckett to come in 2015 as I see ‘Waiting for Godot’ at the Barbican.

4 Henry IV, parts 1 and 2, at the Barbican.  The RSC brought Antony Sher as Falstaff and Jasper Britton as Henry in this pair of classic Shakespeares.

5 The Importance of Being Earnest, at Richmond Theatre.  I liked this gentle parody of the Wilde classic, seen through the eyes of an ageing amateur theatre company.

Honorable mentions go to the revival of Miss Saigon, at the Prince Edward, and Twelve Angry Men, at the Garrick.

The disappointments of the year were Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, at Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Richard III, at Trafalgar Studios.


1 NT Live – there were some excellent performances transmitted to cinemas this year – War Horse, Skylight, and A Streetcar Named Desire.  This is fast becoming a much cheaper alternative to forking out London theatre prices.

2 Jane Eyre (1956).  The BFI Southbank showed the entire Stanley Baker/Daphne Slater series as part of its Gothic season back in January.  It is absolutely terrific.  Whether it will ever see the light of day on DVD (it is a BBC production) is doubtful, but if you get a chance to see it, it is a definite must-see.  It is now my fourth favourite version of the eleven films/miniseries I have seen adapted from this book.

3 Monty Python Live – 1 Down, 5 To Go.  I saw this at the cinema, live from the final night at the O2.  I am a long-time Python fan but was sceptical about whether this reunion would work.  It was a musical comedy extravaganza.

4 I was very pleased to get a chance to watch the original Django (1966) on one of those cheapo Sky channels.  The gorgeous Franco Nero in an ultra-violent (for its day) Spaghetti western.

5 I got twelve films into my Reverse Hitchcock marathon.  With 44 more films to go, I might finish this in 2015, but then again I might not.  Psycho and Frenzy were particularly brilliant.

Honorable mention goes to my discovery of the 1919 The World and Its Woman, which I thought was lost.  Now I have seen three Geraldine Farrar films!  You can see it, and many other films from European film archives, here.


1 Peaky Blinders (series 2, BBC).  The television event of the year as far as I’m concerned.

2 CBeebies commemorated the anniversary of the Great War with a very touching short called Poppies.  Quite superb in its simplicity, geared to its young pre-school audience.

3 Grand Hotel continued its mix of murder, secrets and period drama in the Spanish series running on Sky Arts.  It returns for a final run in the first week of January 2015.

4 The viral video that was Too Many Cooks took everyone by surprise with its quirky take on American sitcoms.

5 We got the first series of The Vikings, which ran, curiously, on History, with an American and Irish cast and creatives.  It was a TV highlight while Gabriel Byrne appeared as the warrior leader (he also appeared with less fanfare as the alcoholic pathologist in Quirke), but tailed off thereafter.

Honorable mentions go to Remember Me, a creepy ghost story starring Michael Palin, and the Victoria Wood play That Day We Sang.


1 My purchase of the year has to be the 1965-69 series The Power Game.  Intrigue in the boardroom (and implied in the bedroom) this series from half a century ago is sharp, engrossing, well-acted, and has a marvellous opening sequence where all the main cast assemble in Paternoster Square in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral.

2 The Dutch release of Who Pays The Ferryman was well worth watching.  I like Michael J Bird’s dramas and was similarly impressed with his earlier series The Lotus Eaters.

3 Young Anthony Newley made his debut in The Adventures of Dusty Bates, a TV serial that has made it to cut price DVD.  He was around 12 or 13 here and wasn’t quite in Vegas mode, yet.  He was a decent little performer.

4 The wonderful set of Ealing Rarities from Network Distributing came to an end with volume 14.  This series of discs has brought 56 films back into distribution, some for the first time since their release.  Network continue with their companion series of British Musicals of the 1930s, which is about to reach volume 3.

5 The BFI, as part of their Sci-Fi season, released Out of the Unknown, which presents all the surviving episodes of the BBC landmark series.  I have had these episodes on bootleg discs for years but this set makes them look as great as possible with a sumptuous booklet.  Well worth a purchase, and will be the subject of a more in-depth blog post in 2015.


The only event worth noting really is the surprising rise of Brentford FC in the Championship, which is good news for the other member of our house, a fan of some 40+ years standing.  May they stay in the top half of the table for the remainder of the season.


Chrissie Hynde and Joan Baez both impressed, independently, at the Royal Festival Hall.  Chrissie gave us her new album but saved the best of Pretenders material to last, and Baez performed a rounded set of classics.

Elvis at the O2 / Sherlock Holmes – The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die

Two major exhibitions in London, and I saw them on consecutive days over the Christmas period, so how do they compare?

The O2 in North Greenwich is the venue for ‘Elvis at the O2: Direct from Graceland’ which showcases clothes and artefacts from the life and career of the American singer Elvis Presley (1935-1977).  This is the first time a major exhibition relating to Elvis has taken place in Europe and it runs to August 2015.


Over at the Museum of London in the City is the exhibition ‘Sherlock Holmes: the Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die’ which runs to the 12th April 2015.  It presents pictures and items relating to the Holmes universe and the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as a selection of film and television portrayals.



Elvis – £20 per adult.  We took 90 minutes to visit the exhibition, and then watched the 26 minute film of Elvis performances which closed the experience.


Sherlock – £12 per adult.  We took 45 minutes to visit the exhibition.



Elvis – the exhibition is not signposted at all outside the O2 or inside, so you just wander through the centre until you find the picture of Elvis at the bottom of an escalator.  You queue and get your ticket scanned, and 20 people at a time are allowed up the escalator.  You go up to find the shop (nice marketing) where you pick up your pre-booked souvenir guides – but not the CD, which isn’t ready yet – then through the doors and into the first exhibit, a short slideshow on Elvis at various times in his life.

Sherlock – very well promoted in the Museum near the entrance, with a frieze outside of the entire Dancing Men story.  You walk straight down to the exhibition (two flights of stairs), where your ticket is scanned and you pass through a bookcase of old tomes into the first section of video screens showing various film and television depictions of Holmes.


Elvis – very much encouraged, but not with flash, and no video recording permitted.


Sherlock – ticket says no, but attendant says yes, except for items flagged with the ‘no photography’ label (including the Hammer Hound poster, some older engravings, and an on-loan Monet).



Elvis – minimal.  If you were not a fan with pre-knowledge of Presley’s life, you might struggle.  Few objects are put into detailed context, although there are some nuggets throughout the exhibition.


Sherlock – very good in depicting the universe of a fictional character and a London which has now vanished.



Elvis – not that many recordings in evidence, perhaps because of copyright – for example, the Graceland room has ‘Welcome to My World’ on a loop.  However video content is superb, especially from the ’68 Special.  I would have welcomed some private video/audio, but this exhibition doesn’t have much ‘off-stage’ other than his wedding cufflinks, Lisa Marie’s fur coat and baby clothes, and some artefacts from Tupelo.


Sherlock – many clips from film and television (although some notable omissions), as well as radio recordings, and an interview with Conan Doyle.

Arrangement of exhibition:

Elvis – starts with Tupelo and then Memphis, and then into a room showcasing the main Vegas/Hawaii jumpsuits and the Cadillac, with rooms off including Graceland (with photographs of the main rooms), Hollywood (film posters, scripts, records, costumes), and the ’68 Special (the Guitar Man costume is here, but not yet the black leather outfit).  You’ll see Elvis’ gold telephone, Taking Care of Business ring, wedding champagne, Harley Davidson bike, riding saddle, the Maltese Cross necklace Linda Thompson gave him, his letter to President Nixon, and the American Eagle outfit from Aloha from Hawaii.  Look up to see LP sleeves hanging from the ceiling.  At the start you see the birth certificate, family Bible, school reports, and Army uniform.


Sherlock – starts with the audio/video and film posters, then on to the London Holmes knew (maps, pictures of hansom cabs, locations etc.), and a room full of so many clothes and artefacts you would swear this man was real – a nice touch is passing through the door of 221B to get to this bit.  There is the violin, the deerstalker, medical paraphernalia, and various items which relate to the various stories.  Nearer the start you find material relating to Conan Doyle (the ms. of A Study in Scarlet, his tobacco jar).



Elvis – high end items (replica jumpsuits at £2,900, photographic prints at £400, art prints in a book at £75), middle end items (shirts, bags), low end items (very cute teddy bears at £10, bobble head Elvises, fridge magnets).  When you arrive at the exhibition your photograph is taken at the ‘gates of Graceland’ and you can buy the photo in an £18 pack (tip – don’t bother with the key ring, etc. as you don’t get extra copies of the photo to put in it).

Sherlock – I already had the excellent book, but there are pricey teddies at £35 (one Holmes, one Watson), a few DVDs, and Conan Doyle book tie-ins with the BBC series.  Not many high end items, but a lot of reading material.

Would I recommend?

Elvis – if you are a fan, absolutely yes, but you might be a little lost and confused if you’re not.  Don’t miss the 26 minute show as it lets you see a selection of Presley performances at his best.


Sherlock – if you are a fan or interested in period London, there is a lot to see here.


The Devil’s Eggshell (Play of the Month) – BFI Southbank

As part of the BFI Southbank’s “Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder” season, this rare showing of the Play of the Month of June 1966, ‘The Devil’s Eggshell’ took place last night.

It’s an odd piece, only nominally nodding in the direction of sci-fi when strange egg-shaped objects (or “POs”) seem to be the cause of disasters ranging from rail and car crashes, suicides, stock market shenanigans, and more.  Leonard Rossiter’s weirdly-accented PM (is he meant to be Welsh?) takes the whole thing very seriously, bringing the country under the military rule of the Fascist-inclined Major General Atkins (John Phillips) and ignoring the pleas of rational political observers Sir Edward Bell (David Langton) and Lord Portmanteau (Bernard Hepton, also curiously Welsh at times) to inform the public from the start.

Things take a curious turn when scientist boffin Dr Quilliam (Keith Barron) hits upon the plan which in a nutshell is to create a ‘Foe’ who can cause world domination purely to cause the general public to turn on their elected leaders.  Such a plan seems fraught with danger, and indeed as the public turn to an ugly and frightened mob it does seem that the end result will be devastating.

Sharply satirical and blackly funny, this play also addresses the notion of press freedom, mob rule, and hysteria in the face of events we do not understand.  From the early demise of the nosy journalist (Michael Culver), to the introduction of death by guillotine for those who were gullible enough to think they could influence public opinion, it is sobering to note that by the end those who survive are the old guard, back in power again, just as corrupt and just as clueless.

The play uses a lot of footage on film which looks to be from real disasters or mobs, and this adds to the pedestrian look to the in-studio pieces.  The cast, which also includes Marian Diamond (Jean), Edmond Bennett (Fowler), and briefly, Burt Kwouk as a Chinese delegate to the conference of war, are good, but the play itself, by David Weir and directed by Gareth Davies, is muddled, and falls between the satire and the unease of the portrayal of mob rule and military coups which seem eerily accurate (this was only two decades after the fall of Hitler, and at the height of the Cold War).

Cats (London Palladium)

It’s been twenty-five years since I last saw this show live, at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool in 1988 or 1989, and I have very strong and happy memories of the musical.  I also have a soft spot for both the Original London Cast Recording and the film version which appeared in the late 1990s.

Some tweaks have been made to make the show more up-to-date – a new tap sequence for Jenny-Any-Dots’ beetle tattoo is fun, but the switch of Rum Tum Tugger from sexy Tom to annoying bling-laden rapper is a mis-step.

‘Cats’ is largely about the dancing, and it doesn’t really need star names to keep it going – there are some amazing young performers showcased here in the various solos (although with five or six understudies on this afternoon I can’t say for sure who was playing Jemima (I think Alice Jane), Rumpleteazer, Old Deuteronomy, Skimbleshanks (Dane Quixall?), Bombalurina (Cassie Clare) and others – if anyone knows for sure or needs to correct assumptions here please do).  I do want to give a nod to Paul F Monaghan who works hard as both Bustopher Jones and a very enjoyable Gus/Growltiger, Callum Train as Munkustrap and Joseph Poulton who is a dazzling Mr Mistoffelees.

The pre-opening buzz has all been about the Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger, who plays the supporting role of Grizabella, and who has the ‘big number’, Memory.  Although she can certainly hit that big note, I felt her voice was lacking in body in the rest of her role, and frankly, her vocal style doesn’t do it for me.  I’ve been brought to tears before by this cat and her song, but not here.

The rubbish dump set might not revolve as it did in the old days, but the cats climb, stretch and emote as they ever did, and the ensemble singing in the numbers ‘Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats’, ‘Old Deuteronomy’ and ‘The Ad-dressing of Cats’ is excellent.  The special effects might not look as spectacular as those in other shows – yes, Wicked, I am looking at you – but the hydraulics, trapeze work and lightning effects are fun.

I would recommend this show to new and old fans alike, and those of you who have feline friends at home will find yourself smiling in recognition at the antics portrayed within this show.

3 Winters (National Theatre), John Cleese – So Anyway (Cadogan Hall)

Last weekend was a double theatre visit, first to the new Croatian-set play ‘3 Winters’, which I admit I left at the interval, so perhaps cannot give a balanced review.  Suffice to say I thought the sets were excellent, moving between the three eras (1945, 1990, 2011) in the same house, although I would personally have dated the video projections.  The characterizations were spread too thinly for us to really care about them, although the actors did their best.  Just not my thing.

John Cleese has had a busy couple of years with his Alimony Tour, the Python reunion at the O2, and now the tour in support of his autobiography (up to 1969) called ‘So Anyway’.  The small and intimate Cadogan Hall was the perfect venue for his conversation with David Walliams, in which he came across as funny, personable, and surprisingly not as arrogant as he has sometimes come across in interviews.  OK, we have heard some of the anecdotes before (Graham Chapman going to a debate at the Oxford Union dressed as a carrot), but they remain amusing enough.  I now look forward to reading the book, which we got as part of the ticket price.  One side note on the Cadogan Hall show, in Cleese’s book he notes his good friend the actor Nicky Henson has a funny laugh which he likes to provoke, and as Mr Henson was in the row in front of us I can confirm that yes, he does indeed have a distinct barking cackle which appeared throughout the show.

Sherlock Holmes: ten favourite portrayals

Following yesterday’s look at my choice of Watsons, today I turn to the Great Detective himself, Sherlock Holmes.

It’s a much harder choice to restrict my list of Holmes interpreters to just ten, as probably thirty actors are worth careful consideration.  However, having reflected on my choices, and leaving out a few honorable mentions who might have made a longlist on the topic (Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Stephens, Geoffrey Whitehead, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Barrymore), here’s the final ten.

10. Jonathan Pryce.  Television: Sherlock Holmes & The Baker Street Irregulars (2007).  His Watson was Bill Paterson.  Although only a one-shot appearance, Pryce was a very memorable detective.

pryce holmes

9. Ronald Howard.  Television: Sherlock Holmes (1954-55).  His Watson was Howard Marion-Crawford.  Across the 39 episodes of this low budget series, and helped by an extremely good doctor, Howard was an energetic, keen and young Holmes.

howard holmes

8. Nicol Williamson.  Film: The Seven Per Cent Solution (1976).  His Watson was Robert Duvall.  Nervy, eccentric, and tormented, this one-shot appearance was a keeper, although Duvall’s accent stopped his Watson from being top notch.


7. John Neville.  Film: A Study in Terror (1965). His Watson was Donald Houston.  Elegant, sardonic, and very tough, Neville’s stage presence comes through in this single appearance of the great Detective.

neville holmes

6. Eille Norwood.  A series of silent films for Stoll (1921-1923).  His Watson was Hubert Willis (and Arthur Cullin in The Sign of Four).  He’s pictured here with Conan Doyle himself.  Norwood was an excellent choice to portray this most complex of characters.

norwood holmes

5. Basil Rathbone.  A Baker’s dozen of films (1939-1946). His Watson was Nigel Bruce.  Although the films might sometimes fail to work, and Bruce’s Watson may be a little on the dozy and comical side, Rathbone was a superb, calm, and sometimes calculating Holmes.

rathbone holmes

4. Peter Cushing.  Film: The Hound of the Baskervilles (1959).  Television: Sherlock Holmes (1968).  TV movie: The Masks of Death (1984).  His Watsons were André Morell, Nigel Stock, and John Mills.  Three attempts at the character over a twenty-five year period cannot be ignored.

cushing holmes

3. Arthur Wontner. Five films between 1931 and 1937.  His Watson was Ian Fleming (and Ian Hunter in The Sign of Four).  Although often overlooked, and a little bit old for the part, Wontner was nevertheless excellent, especially in Murder at the Baskervilles aka Silver Blaze.

wontner holmes

2. Douglas Wilmer.  Television: Sherlock Holmes (1965).  His Watson was Nigel Stock.  Only in one series of this BBC classic, Wilmer (who is still living and very astute on the subject of his portrayal of Holmes) was very watchable, if a dour and sarcastic portrayer of the genius sleuth.

wilmer holmes

1. Jeremy Brett.  Four series on television and some TV movies (1984-1994).  His Watsons were David Burke and Edward Hardwick.  It is no exaggeration to say that Brett’s wildly variable performances as Holmes are as definitive as any actor can be.  Simply, he was Sherlock Holmes for a decade, and his films stand up to many rewatches.

brett holmes

Archive TV gems: The Power Game (1965-1969)

In the most recent ITV sale from those lovely people at Network Distributing I picked up three series, ‘The Four Just Men’, ‘Two’s Company’ (which I remember from when it first aired) and a blind buy, all three series over 12 DVDs of ‘The Power Game’.  Surviving from telerecordings and film elements since the videotapes containing this programme were wiped, the picture and sound quality is not of the best but this series is a surprising discovery for me, and after nearly fifty years, as gripping as it must have been to audiences back then.

Patrick Wymark (1926-1970) plays the leading role of industrialist John Wilder, who was previously seen in the factory-set drama ‘The Plane Makers’.  ‘The Power Game’ takes the drama into the boardroom and behind the scenes while Wilder takes on his rival Caswell Bligh (Clifford Evans), an engineering supremo and something of a Machiavellian.  Bligh has a son (Peter Barkworth) who share managing director duties with Wilder, while Wilder has an assistant (Jack Watling) who seems to lurk in the shadows, as well as a wife and mistress (Barbara Murray and Rosemary Leach).

Politics, business shenanigans, money, and more make this a heady brew and one I heartily recommend to fellow archive television enthusiasts, although you probably sailed on this particular boat long before I did.

Dr Watson: ten memorable portrayals

There have been many arguments about who is the ‘best’ Sherlock Holmes on film or television, and I have mentioned a few of my favourites on this blog.

What of Dr Watson?  Here’s my starter for ten, those gentlemen (and lady) who have most memorably played the good doctor.

10.  James Mason.  Film: Murder By Decree, 1979.  Holmes was played by Christopher Plummer. Continue reading

Remember Me (BBC1)

Those of you who can remember the tradition of the television Ghost Story for Christmas might well welcome this three-part chiller which represents Michael Palin’s first acting appearance since GBH back in 1991.

Tom Parfitt is leaving his home after a tumble down the stairs to live in a care home, and quickly events start to unravel around him when his friendly social worker, Alison, takes a tumble from his bedroom window.  He has brought no luggage but has an old photograph which over the first two episodes becomes pivotal in breaking through a mystery which cannot possibly be true.

In depicting a man who is ’80-odd’ on the surface but far older, it transpires, Palin does well throughout the two episodes in which he takes centre stage (the first and the last).  The other main parts are a policeman, Rob, who has recovered from a breakdown following the collapse of his marriage, and who starts to doubt his instincts (played by Mark Addy) and a young girl, Hannah, who finds some focus in the attention she can pay to the old man and his songs of Scarborough which intrigue her (played by Jodie Comer).

Hannah and her young brother Sean (Jamie Rooney-West) are neglected by their mother (an almost unrecognizable Julia Sawalha) and she only finds a weird purpose when she starts to be pulled into the mystery of what really happened in the past of the mysterious Mr Parfitt.

Remember Me is an atmospheric piece with superior cinematography and great sound balance with water drips, ghostly singing, and echoes of dialogue.  Ashley Pearce directs Gwyneth Hughes’ screenplay, and Noreen Kershaw, Rebekah Staton, Sheila Hancock, Mayuri Boonhamn and Eileen Davies are amongst a good cast.

You need a certain suspension of belief to swallow the twists in this tale, especially those which hark back to Imperial India, but that was the same in the days of the old MR James adaptations.  This doesn’t quite reach their heights, but I liked the watery ending, and the final singing of Scarborough Fair by Palin over the credits.  That is, I would have done, had the BBC announcer not jumped in straight away to tell us about the next programme.

Henry IV parts 1 and 2 (RSC at the Barbican)

Making its home for Christmas at the Barbican Centre (one-time London home of the Royal Shakespeare Company), these productions of the two Henry IV plays have been heavily trailed with Sir Antony Sher’s return to the Company in the role of Falstaff, collaborating professionally once more with his off-stage partner of twenty-seven years, the RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran.

The two plays are very different in tone – Part 1 is a mix of battles and comedy, while Part 2 is more reflective on the passing of time and the onset of maturity on the part of Prince Hal (Alex Hassell, who is very good indeed and a potential rising star for the RSC).

henry iv i

The scene which opens Part 1 may be a trifle bewildering for those who were not present at Doran’s earlier production of Richard II, as the ghost of that deposed and murdered king appears to watch over the scene where Henry IV (Jasper Britton) puts on the crown you see center stage.

Britton portrays the anger and doubt of the King, but misses the depth of feeling required to portray such scenes as the character’s exchanges with his dissolute son in both parts, especially those which should be moving to watch in Part 2.  The son of veteran actor Tony Britton, he also resembles his father at times but does not achieve the majesty or power of an anointed monarch.  I found myself thinking back to David Troughton’s portrayal of Henry IV (also for the RSC) back in 2000, in which he was convincing as both dangerous warrior and sick man losing his grasp on power and life.

The scene which introduces both Hassell’s Hal and Sher’s Falstaff here involves a couple of good-time ladies frolicking with the Prince, and a comic reveal to find a Falstaff shaking with DT’s and asking ‘the time of day’ under the sheets at the bottom of the same bed in which the Prince and his ladies had just enjoyed themselves.   It makes clear at once the unhealthy closeness and influence the fat dissolute man has over the heir to the throne.

I felt the scenes in the Tavern were a little muted, perhaps because of the staging, which kept events confined in the middle of the stage.  The battle scenes, though, were excellent, with a backdrop of scenery torn asunder and illuminated in orange light.  But casting went awry with Trevor White’s Hotspur, who came across as part ranting child with ADHD and part tiresome nitwit, and it was a relief to see his demise at the close of part 1.

Strong scenes in part 1 included the memorable segment where Falstaff plays the king interrogating his son about his followers, and Hal then taking on the persona of his father to say he can, and will, ‘banish plump Jack, and banish all the world’.  There is also the amusing scene with Francis the waiter ‘anon, anon, sir’, and the majesty of Owen Glendower (played by Joshua Richards, who is also a rouge-faced Bardolph, and who played Richard Burton in a solo show not so long ago for stage and screen).

henry iv 2

On to the reflectiveness of part 2, in which Oliver Ford Davies and Jim Hooper (trivia fans may note that he was the former long-term partner of Antony Sher, pre-Doran) are a joy to watch as Justices Shallow and Silence, the perfect essayists of vacant ageing and lost opportunity.  Their early scene together, lamenting their friends who are now dead and old, moves into an amusing scene where Falstaff searches for men to join him in battle, and finds a rag-bag of unsuitables similar to the ‘rude mechanicals’ of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.  The man called ‘Wart’ in particular causes amusement when he cannot even lift a rifle.

Meanwhile, Henry IV is ailing, and sad, and beginning to realise he will never make that promised pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Hal continues to frequent Eastcheap with Poins and to neglect his destiny as leader, until the turning point when he finds his father sleeping and thinks him dead, taking the Crown and reflecting on the grave responsibility which comes with becoming King.  Although this scene is not as powerful as it should be, the ending scene where Hal rejects his former life, and his former friend, with ‘I know thee not, old man’ does pack a punch (especially coming so soon after the amusing drinking scene with Falstaff and the Justices, in which even the reticent Silence finds liquor makes him sing).

This pair of plays is skewed towards Sher’s Falstaff, and he does show a gift for comedy we haven’t often seen before (although in Cyrano de Bergerac in the 1990s he did show signs of a range which included playing for laughs), as well as portraying the increased infirmity which comes of drinking too much sack and being too dissolute – whether wriggling on the ground like a beetle trying to get up at the end of the Shrewsbury battle in which he plays dead, exolting the virtues of drinking sack, or exchanging a rather tender moment with his whore Doll Tearsheet when he is about to leave for the wars.

Elsewhere in the cast memorable turns come from Robert Gilbert as Mortimer in part 1, Jennifer Kirby as Lady Percy, Nia Gwynne as the Welsh singing Lady Mortimer in part 1 and Doll Tearsheet in part 2, Antony Byrne as a wild-haired Pistol, Sam Marks as an excellent Poins, and Paola Dionisotti as a memorable Mistress Quickly.

Jane Eyre (Studio One, 1949) ***1/2

Charlton Heston made a number of TV productions before he attained movie stardom, including several entries in the Westinghouse Studio One series. This time, he’s Edward Rochester in ‘Jane Eyre’, and although a little too young for the role, he puts the part across with the right mix of sardonic charm and arrogance. Jane herself, played by an actress I hadn’t seen before, was also very good, and the production itself has some chills and some surprises – a glimpse of the mad wife from a window, for example.

This production is fairly easy to find and view online and is worth the effort. I’ve seen and liked many Jane Eyre versions, and this one is a welcome addition to those titles.

Jane Eyre (1997) ***1/2

This version has several things to, on the surface, recommend it – Samantha Morton, fresh from Band of Gold and before her Hollywood successes, plays Jane Eyre with sincerity and real feeling. We can understand her motivation and empathise with her position.

Even though short, this adaptation manages to stay fairly close to the book, although, like most versions, takes liberty with the dialogue and settings. Gemma Jones is a good Mrs Fairfax, and Timea Berthome is a sweet little Adele.

But … Ciaran Hinds as Rochester! No, no, no. Aside from the Santana moustache, his acting is overplayed and just wrong for the part, proving laughable in places. The kissing scenes are too ridiculous for words and only highlight the lack of chemistry between him and Morton, far from suggesting the latent passion we should see between hero and heroine in this complicated tale.

His casting is a major misfire for me, and damages the fabric of an otherwise solid TV version. Not unwatchable, but disappointing.

Jane Eyre (1996) ***

The first time I saw this Zeffirelli version of the famous Bronte classic, I wasn’t particularly impressed with either Charlotte Gainsbourg’s feisty interpretation of Jane, or with William Hurt’s over-sensitive version of Rochester.

This Jane is the one with dark and brooding tendencies (played as a child by Anna Paquin, this side of her comes across well); while Rochester is damaged by his past but not quite right in the characterisation, less a gothic hero than a damp squib.

A second viewing put both in a more favourable light, but the problem is that ‘Jane Eyre’ has many other, much better, adaptations out there and this version adds very little. In the cast we have Billie Whitelaw as a creepy Grace Poole, the reliable Joan Plowright as Mrs Fairfax, Samuel West as the colourless St John Rivers, and Maria ‘Last Tango’ Schneider as the imprisoned lunatic, Bertha.

One or two scenes stay in the memory – Josephine Serre as the very French Adele; Jane’s sketching; the wedding sequences; Jane and Rochester’s first meeting (but this scene has been done much better before) – but as a whole it is pretty throwaway and forgettable.

Jane Eyre (1957) ***1/2

This miniseries is not available in translation, as far as I am aware, so this review is from watching the adaptation in Italian. Still, if you have any familiarity with the story, you shouldn’t have a problem following it.

Ilaria Occhini (her debut screen appearance at 22), is Jane, and Raf Vallone (who made appearances in English language films later) is Rochester. This version starts with the meeting of the two when Rochester falls from his horse, and then flashes back to Jane’s childhood at the Reeds, including some kind of early love affair (a departure from the book, but never mind …).

With Gothic flashes, smoulders and locked doors, this version delivers, and even has a nice twist to the ending which while not really Bronte, wraps up this film quite well. The acting is fine, and while not entirely faithful to the novel, it isn’t so much of a departure that it becomes a travesty.

Jane Eyre (2011) ****

A radical shake-up of the plot shows Jane’s flight from Thornfield before anything else, before returning to her childhood story.

Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, previously known for the lead in Alice in Wonderland, is a very different Jane to those we have seen before. She is so quiet and delicate the wind could blow her away. My only gripe would be that her accent wanders and can’t quite decide where to stick.

German-Irish actor Michael Fassbinder is a traditional looking Mr Rochester, but his first interview with Jane is disappointingly truncated.

Having said this, the 2011 version is excellent and the changing around of plot points to make the adaptation more cinematic gives this version some bite. I know that Fassbender has made his name since this as an actor who generally plays complex low-lifes or undesirables, but in this he is everything a Rochester should be.

Good support, too, from Jamie Bell (little Billy Elliot, as St John Rivers!), Sally Hawkins (as nasty Aunt Reed), and Freya Parks (as tragic Helen Burns).

Jane Eyre (1943) ****

Orson Welles, for me, is the definitive Rochester, handsome, egotistical, unpredictable. He’s also more subtle and touching than other actors who have played the role.

A real weepie, despite the weak central performance of Joan Fontaine as Jane. Watch out for a very young Liz Taylor as Helen Burns.

One of my all-time favourite period dramas, even if all the mists and stuff are more of Emily Bronte’s country than sister Charlotte’s!

Jane Eyre (1971) ****

This version suffers from its continued unavailability in a decent print or DVD release. A great shame, as the music (by John Williams) is lovely, there are beautiful landscapes and scenery, and George C Scott is wonderful as Rochester. His heartbreak as he doesn’t understand how Jane can leave him after the aborted wedding is very powerful.

Susannah York is a beautiful and passionate Jane, although she doesn’t have the youth the part requires. Also in the cast, and doing well, are Ian Bannen (Rivers), Jack Hawkins (Brocklehurst, dubbed but still memorable), Jean Marsh (an affecting cameo as Bertha, trapped in her own little world).

This may be viewed as a second-string film for Scott, but it did get theatrical release in the UK and, despite the poor quality prints we see now, did have a decent budget. I like it a lot.

Jane Eyre (2006) ****1/2

Charlotte Bronte’s source novel has inspired many different adaptations through the years – whether you remember the restraint of Ciaran Hinds (in the last TV production before this one), or the pseudo-Heathcliff Gothic of Orson Welles in the 1940s, the character of Mr Rochester always seems to take centre stage over his young governess, the eponymous Jane.

Spirited and memorable Janes have been thin on the ground – here, Ruth Wilson is not quite plain enough but succeeds in getting to the heart of the character and making you remember her long after the credits of the closing episode have run.

This Jane has feelings enough to react to what happens to her and to get what she wants – Toby Stephens plays Rochester as suitably irritated and tortured but yet does not come across as caricature.

Jane Eyre (1983) *****

This 1983 adaptation is one of the most faithful to the book and benefits from an excellent Rochester (a pre-Bond Timothy Dalton), opposite the picture perfect Zelah Clarke as Jane. Oddly, this break did not enhance her career and she is now retired from acting.

Although the book veers more towards piety and religion than passion and Gothic romance, film versions have always taken the central ‘thread’ between Rochester and Jane as the main driving plot.

If you love the book, or period drama, or Gothic heroes, or the quiet heroine who is ‘calm at the mouth of hell’, then this is the version for you.

Jane Eyre (1934) ***1/2

This creaky Monogram cheapo, running at just over an hour, manages to change the Bronte novel to such a degree that after the first ten minutes I had to stop laughing, forget about the book, and enjoy the film for what it is – essentially a film using characters from ‘Jane Eyre’.

Jane Eyre is a wilful child who is happy to go to Lowood and eventually is fired after calling her employer a ‘wicked old crocodile’. So the whole point of abuse of Lowood is lost with this flippant treatment and the complete removal of Helen Burns. Oh, and Jane swans off with ‘the inheritance she has from her uncle’. Eh? On her way to Thornfield with a comedy cart driver (added character, husband of Grace Poole) she steps down and gets in the way of Mr Rochester’s horse. OK, this is from the book, but her response to his questioning what she does at Thornfield is not! Once at the house, Adele is the English niece of ‘Uncle Edward’, so removing the point of illegitimacy and neglect of the child, who is now doted on.

Even the first scene of conversation between Jane and Rochester is off-kilter, especially when she takes to the piano and sings to him! Blanche Ingram is a matronly woman who couldn’t possibly compare with Jane’s ringlets; Adele does imitations of party guests for Blanche’s dad; and there is no Mason, no gypsy scene, no tension. There is the burning bed scene but that falls flat and has none of the drive we expect to see from that situation.

Rochester is waiting for an annulment to come through, so no obstacle to marrying Jane and no potential bigamy here. In fact Adele suggests he marries Jane and so he rushes to propose! The ‘mad’ wife seem strangely lucid, although Jane still leaves when she sees her and almost immediately it seems the house burns down.

John Rivers is included briefly as Jane goes to work for his mission and even agrees to marry him before meeting Mr Poole again and discovering about the Thornfield fire. Now her affections seem to change again and she goes back for the reconciliation with the now blind Rochester.

As Jane, Virginia Bruce is far too pretty but she was a good actress and, putting aside the book and other interpretations, is watchable and engaging. Colin Clive, best known for Frankenstein, plays Rochester with some skill but does not have enough to work with.

This version is too merry, too happy, without the complications and the discontent you would expect to see from a man disappointed with his lot and damaged from an inappropriate marriage to a madwoman.

I was glad to see it and have rated it fairly high because as a film on its own, it is quite good. As an adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s complex novel it is a disgrace.

Happy Thoughts, Darling

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