Monthly Archives: November 2015

Henry V (RSC at the Barbican)

The final play in the Shakespeare Tetralogy which has now evolved into ‘King and Country’, so from next month, if you missed the first three plays, ‘Richard II’ and ‘Henry IV parts 1 and 2’, go forth to the Barbican and make good that omission.

This is, surprisingly, the very first ‘Henry V’ I have seen on stage.  Of course I have seen the Olivier and Branagh films, with their rousing St Crispin’s Day speeches, and the BBC Shakespeare and Hollow Crown versions, but have missed out on real life versions.  So even if I hadn’t seen the preceding plays, I would have hot-footed it to this one.

Alex Hassell returns as the king he became at the end of ‘Henry IV part 2’, and he is still not quite the regal or commanding monarch: he had doubts, he shows some emotion at the losses of battle and the tough decisions he has to make to maintain army discipline.  It is an excellent performance, and I believed in him completely.

Also good in this cast are Oliver Ford Davies as a beautifully enunciated Chorus in a cardigan, the ever-reliable Jim Hooper in two roles and two beards (an early scene as the Polonius-like Archbishop of Canterbury pulls the humour out of an Act One scene), a delicate Jane Lapotaire as the Queen of France, and Joshua Richards in a brace of roles as boozy Bardolph and fiery Welshman Fluellen.  The set is rather good, too, with golden beads hanging in chains at each side of the stage, clouds, rain, and, as the Chorus asks us, a set of imaginary horses.

Gregory Doran’s productions often put humour ahead of the more serious aspects of the play, and here there was a bit of what can only be called ‘audience participation’ in Henry’s wooing scene with Katherine (Jennifer Kirby, who runs with both her scenes, playing broken English for fun) which didn’t quite work.  However, post-battle, there was a moment when the balconies and stage filled with mournful singing for the dead which was very moving.

I should also mention Sarah Parks’ Mistress Quickly, and her account of the last moments of the life of the (unseen) Sir John Falstaff, who died ‘babbling o’ green fields’, and Simon Yadoo’s impenetrable Scottish soldier, who offered comic relief in the calm before the storm of Agincourt.

Play for Today: The Slab Boys, 1979

Play for Today: The Slab Boys, directed by Bob Hird.  Starring Gerard Kelly, Billy McColl, Joseph McKenna and Tom Watson.  75 minutes.  1979.

An excellent ‘Play for Today’, this stage to screen adaptation by John Byrne, the first of an eventual trilogy, shows life in a Scottish carpet factory from the floor where the ‘slab boys’ mix the colours for the designers: three lads work there from the dim clown to the sparky fireball and the sarcastic quiff wearer.

When a posh lad comes into the firm straight from ‘uni’ and starts earning more in a week than all three slab boys together they get a glimpse of what could be, and what might be, for one of them. With realistic regional dialogue and some sense of urban working class life, there are watchable and strong performances from Billy McColl (d. 2014), Gerard Kelly (d. 2010), and Joseph McKenna (not seen on screen since Absolute Beginners).

The boss is one Willie Curry, sardonic and nostalgic for his desert war service. Tom Watson reprised the role nearly two decades later for the glossy feature film, but I find his performance here is more spot on.

Finally, the new lad Alan, still in his blazer and polite to a fault, is played by Mark Windsor, who has also disappeared from the screen after a brief flourish in the late 70s/early 80s. I didn’t find him that convincing but you need this kind of character for contrast and conflict, I suppose.

Very watchable and although it betrays its stage origins now and then, it translates well to the screen.

Play for Today: The Muscle Market, 1981

Play for Today: The Muscle Market, directed by Jim Goddard.  Starring Pete Postlethwaite, Alison Steadman, Paul Jesson and Barry McCarthy.  75 minutes.  1981.

A very good Play for Today from the pen of Alan Bleasdale, this provides the missing link between the play ‘The Black Stuff’ which introduced Yosser and the gang, and the subsequent TV serial, ‘Boys from the Blackstuff’. It’s a mystery why this particular play is missing from the DVD release.

This is the story of contractor Danny Duggan (Pete Postlethwaite), who is involved in bad company with some violent and dodgy characters, and the dark situation he finds himself in with books which don’t add up and numerous debts.

It might sound bleak, but there is a lot of black comedy here and a real sense of realism from a master writer. When he has to go serious, he certainly does, that’s the cleverness of the writing.

Strong support from Alison Steadman as Duggan’s secretary, and Terence Rigby as the amiable yet menacing Mr Big owed a lot of cash.

Play for Today: Home, 1972

Play for Today: Home, directed by Lindsay Anderson.  Starring Ralph Richardson, John Gielgud, Mona Washbourne, Dandy Nichols and Warren Clarke.  86 minutes.  1972.

This is a marvellous Play for Today featuring two theatrical giants, Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud, as two residents of a rest home: much of the play is the two of them, talking, which may not sound much but which is absolute gold.

David Storey’s play flourishes in the hands of director Lindsay Anderson (they would collaborate a number of times), and the joy of this piece is just watching two masters at work, while the audience has to work out just how nutty they are and how they interact with each other.

Mona Washbourne and Dandy Nichols have lesser roles, but are both good, while Warren Clarke has an early role as a simple-minded clot who is simply tolerated by the elderly pair of chatterers. The dialogue is very naturalistic, the set is purely theatrical, but the effect is one of being an audience member on the very front row.

Play for Today: Dinner at the Sporting Club, 1978

Play for Today: Dinner at the Sporting Club, directed by Brian Gibson.  Starring John Thaw, Billy McColl, Maureen Lipman, Jonathan Lynn, and Ken Campbell.  63 minutes.  1978.

“I married a ladies raincoat manufacturer, not a sportsman”.

Maureen Lipman and Jonathan Lynn as a bored and sniping couple are on the sidelines of this sharp and compact play featuring John Thaw as a boxing promoter and Billy McColl as his prizefighter, acceptable to the sporting club fraternity because he isn’t ‘chocolate’.

This is a sparkling character study in many ways – here’s the marvellous Ken Campbell propping up the bar in suit and bow tie, wondering whether to take a flutter on the boy.

“They get enough money for a down-payment on a bungalow out in Ongar and they’re satisfied”.

An on-the-surface romantic view of the boxing ring soon evaporates into the loss of hope in seedy surroundings as McColl’s fighter fails to reach his potential.

Gloriously un-PC, too, with lines like ‘He doesn’t drink, funny being a Mick’. Thaw and McColl are good, and this has a definite whiff of realism with the blood, sweat and tears of the fighting ring.

Wuthering Heights, 1962 TV version **1/2

Wuthering Heights, directed by Rudolph Cartier. Keith Michell as Heathcliff, Claire Bloom as Cathy, Patrick Troughton as Hindley, David McCallum as Edgar, Jean Anderson as Ellen,  and June Thorburn as Isabella.  95 minutes.  1962.

An early TV attempt to do justice to the classic novel in 95 minutes doesn’t quite come off, although it has the correct Gothic chills by the end.

Claire Bloom is a radiant, free-spirited Cathy, although her accent is a bit wayward. As her Heathcliff, Keith Michell smoulders with rage, passion and arrogance, but he would improve in acting range over the next decade.

Rounding out the cast, David McCallum as Edgar, June Thorburn as Isabella (her decline from flighty and flirty to desperate is sad to see), Jean Anderson as Ellen, Patrick Troughton as Hindley, and Ronald Howard as Mr Lockwood.

This Rudolph Cartier production was showing as part of the BFI Gothic season and can now be found in the BFI Mediatheque.

Wuthering Heights, 1992 film ***1/2

Wuthering Heights, directed by Peter Kosminsky.  Ralph Fiennes as Heathcliff, Juliette Binoche as Cathy/Catherine, Jeremy Northam as Hindley, Robert Demeger as Joseph, Jason Riddington as Hareton, Simon Shepherd as Edgar, Janet McTeer as Ellen, Jonathan Firth as Linton and Sophie Ward as Isabella.  105 minutes.  1992.

I’m a Brontë nut, and ‘Wuthering Heights’ was my Gothic go-to book as a teenager. However when this film came out I was nineteen, it had several poor reviews, and I dodged it rather than going to have a look.

Therefore I didn’t see this film until about four years ago for the first time, and was pleasantly surprised to find that it is not at all bad – Juliette Binoche is unquestionably French, but she does portray the sense of a Cathy who veers between being lost in the emotions of her strong connection to Heathcliff, as rough and as wild as he is, and her need to become a respectable woman of means, as Mrs Edgar Linton.

Ralph Fiennes might not be an obvious choice as Heathcliff, but he has the romanticism of a Gothic hero, and if there is a slight misstep in the casting of Sophie Ward as Isabella (not the right type of woman for the role), it is balanced by Janet McTeer’s Nellie Dean, Jeremy Northam’s pathetic Hindley, and Simon Shepherd’s snooty Edgar. Kudos too for Jonathan Firth (brother of Colin) for his portrayal of the sickly Linton Heathcliff, child of a destructive and loveless union.

You get a sense of the Linton parents, too, in the persons of Simon Ward (father of Sophie, so perhaps a bit of stunt casting) and Jennifer Daniel. They are refined enough to see beyond Cathy’s dirty face to her family’s reputation and breeding, but too inward looking to accept the bond she has with her friend.

Wuthering Heights, 1998 TV version ****

Wuthering Heights, directed by David Skynner.  Robert Cavanagh as Heathcliff, Orla Brady as Cathy, Ian Shaw as Hindley, Peter Davison as Joseph, Matthew Macfadyen as Hareton, Sarah Smart as Catherine, Crispin Bonham-Carter as Edgar, Polly Hemingway as Nelly and Flora Montgomery as Isabella.  113 minutes.  1998.

This adaptation of Emily Bronte’s classic Gothic romance of the Yorkshire moors has something of an Irish feel (thanks to the casting of Orla Brady as a spunky Catherine, and Robert Cavanah as a brooding and menacing Heathcliff).

This Heathcliff is not the romantic hero we saw in the Olivier-Oberon version in the 1930s; he’s bitter, tiresome, grotesque, unsympathetic, and yet his great love for Cathy shines through.

Matching the novel pretty much chapter for chapter, this version does more with the last third of the book that most other attempts have – the understanding between Hareton and Catherine comes through much more strongly.

It also muddies the waters slightly with respect to the conflict between Heathcliff and Hindley – although we can see why Heathcliff acts as he does, this version doesn’t necessarily excuse him.

This Wuthering Heights is uncompromising, dark, and violent. This possibly contributed to its fate at the time, as the acting is largely fine (including Ken Kitson as Mr Earnshaw, Ian Shaw as Hindley, Matthew MacFadyen as Hareton, Tom Georgeson as Joseph, and Polly Hemingway as Nellie). It represents a decent attempt to get Emily Bronte’s vision on film – it doesn’t work, but it comes very close.

Poems archived from Stride Magazine

The original URL doesn’t really exist any more, so archiving the poems here.  They were published in January 2004. Stride editor Rupert Loydell wrote to me that he ‘didn’t really like them, but he couldn’t find a reason to reject them’. LOL.

This one is about the Arthurian legend and the Lady in the Lake.


It is hard work being in this lake,
my clothes always wet and shrinking,
feet and fingers wrinkled like raw steaks.

He comes along, all gold coronets and smooth words,
to swim in my waters and grab a hold of my sword,
takes his trophies from the reedy banks to throw over me.

And I must hoist Excalibur from the waters,
breathe my own brand of magic on the waves,
let my lovely hair stream in the sun just once.

At the river bottom I lie in his arms,
he promises me a world of caves and ice,
I bubble the spawn of freedom over him.

Come, Arthur, claim the prize that is yours,
meet my eyes with a bewildered gaze,
metal clad warrior, I blow kisses down your neck.


This is from a set of film poems, some of which developed into a larger project.


The first time he travelled, the streets were wider,
and more people came to drink the water,
stroll on the pavements, look at the dark river;

the play was all about dying, and romance,
and obsession. A step on from those wartime
steel cathedrals young Dirk noted down –

he’s grown up too far now with nothing
left but the chatter of the tourist trade
and the heart that was Venice, close to tears.
When he visited cities, it was always to look
up at their skylines, the buildings built before
any of us thought of planes or trains:

he rides the gondolas now in the dead of night,
alone under the twisted ghost of the moonshine.
He wouldn’t remember his name if you called it

so let him stay there with the boys reclining
and playing, those detached notes of music
advancing. He knows where he’ll be happy.

This is another film related piece.


You certainly were one of a kind, a fantastic island of sounds
and visions, a canopy of words, charisma, anger, attraction.

Let me view you over and over on my private movie screen,
revel in your fabulous love of life, your damn-it-all wit.

I watch all the ships rage in their wind-strewn waters,
they call to the earth to unleash its own special spirit.

Not too long ago you waded here, back to nature,
a river god returning to his murky covered throne.

Gone now. And the world rocks silently and surely
in a sparking firecracker of memories of you.

And so is this one.


There was a thin glow of white covering each of our tracks;
we wondered why the sunset bled away into the blue-white sky,
and the horses raged across the rooftops –

we closed our eyes tight and remembered the clatter of the chariots,
the vocal confirmations of the bleak summer breeze across the roses
in the garden, the tight perfume of the herbs under the canopy.

Who won?
I stop to refill the salt shaker, stoop to kill the weeds
again, listen to the cool clack of the magpies.

She kneels down
with urgency, her anxious breath chilling my face.
I shake my head.
We watch the last light creep over the horizon.

This one was written on a writers’ programme in Leeds where over a couple of days working with Rommi Smith I was inspired to write a lot of stuff which seemed to work quite well.


You were my coffee cup,
I the spoon.

we clashed as the hot
liquid scorched us.

We always matched,
a set, one and two.

I’d slosh in the sink
beside you, sometimes
getting left behind
in the dirty whoosh of water.

Your side showed
a hairline crack
I’d brush when milk
and sugar were added.

Then you held tea,
and I remained sadly behind.

Back in the cupboard you’d doze
as I raged in the drawer
above you,
in the hope I’d keep you awake.

Once I was left in you
on the drainer,
stained but content,
we snuggled together.

You were home, a shelter,
cool, sleek, and practical.

We belonged.

Happy Thoughts, Darling

Classic movies, Classic stars

Film Dialogue

Film Dialogue is a forum for anyone with interest in cinema and film history


TV, film, documentary, animation and music talk


Amy Steele on music, books and other (mostly alternative) entertainment

%d bloggers like this: