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Friday, 24 July 2020

Friday Favourites: TV, Books, Podcasts - July Edition

Gail Hanlon and headphones for Friday Favourites, podcast and TV reviews, in blog Is This Mutton
Welcome to another edition of Friday Favourites, my reviews of TV shows, films, books and podcasts.

TV Viewing

The Secrets She Keeps (BBC iPlayer)

The cast of Australian TV thriller The Secrets She Keeps
First up, how exciting was this! I had low expectations initially for this Australian drama but it soon hooked me in, and boy, was episode 4 (of six) a thriller! A social media influencer is befriended by a  shop assistant  (Laura Carmichael, who was Lady Edith in Downton Abbey). They're both pregnant and expecting a baby at the same time.  I won't reveal any spoilers, but both my mum and I enjoyed it and indulged in binge watching. It's based on a true story.

Cursed (Netflix)
Nimue played by Katherine Langford, from the Arthurian legend drama Cursed

The latest big budget fantasy series on Netflix launched last week.  Cursed tells (loosely) the King Arthur / Excalibur legend but from the perspective of a "young rebel" or witch Nimue, who joins forces with charming mercenary Arthur on a mission to save her people.  We watched two episodes, and it's a complete yawn fest.  The CGI scenes are woeful, so the big budget must have been spent elsewhere.  These are people supposed to have lived 1500 years ago but suspiciously clean, well dressed and non-matted of hair.  Their language is also very up to date - probably intentionally, to seduce the millennial audience.  There is zero chemistry between Nimue and Arthur. Filed under "lame" and surprised to hear a second season is lined up.

Norsemen (Netflix)

We've just discovered Norwegian comedy Norsemen and it's terrific.  It's an amusing spoof on the Vikings, beautifully done with elaborate costumes and filming, with a very dry, sometimes Pythonesque, humour running through it.  The women are all very strong and no nonsense, whereas the men go off into flights of fancy about creating memorable installations and theatre, and philosophizing about the emotional cost of raping and pillaging.  The latest season, 3, started this week.

Military Wives

The film starring Kristin Scott-Thomas is now available on Sky and Prime. The concept of the military wives' choirs was somewhat hijacked by the TV show The Choir with Gareth Malone, but actually it all started before he came on the scene.  The grief stricken wife of an army colonel  (Scott-Thomas) foists herself on the camp's wives' social committee, locking horns with the wife of the RSM (Sharon Horgan). They form a choir and, overheard by a camp commander, are invited to perform at the Royal Albert Hall in the Festival of Remembrance.  I was expecting a blub fest but didn't feel invested enough in the characters, who seemed brittle and charmless, to feel much emotion at the end. A pleasant enough watch but nothing special.

 Eurovision Song Contest:  The Story of Fire Saga (Netflix)

The two stars of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams. Copyright New York Times
This new film was a mildly amusing romp that hit a few bum notes, the biggest being Will Ferrell who (as usual) seemed miscast and out of his depth.

The Eurovision Song Contest is the most amazing annual festival of kitsch that somehow brings the whole of Europe together.  Last year it was watched by 180 million people. I used to rely on it as a conversation topic when we had large international social gatherings at my last company. It was guaranteed to get everyone talking. It has to be seen to be believed.

The film tells the story of two performers from Iceland (which has never won the contest) who may or may not be related  (this was a running gag). The country that wins Eurovision has to stage it the following year, and the cost of this has proved prohibitive for many a country. So a conspiracy derails the Iceland entry to ensure the country has no chance of success. Singers Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) find themselves catapulted into the semi-finals. Lots of mayhem ensues with murderous elves (apparently 60% of Icelanders believe in elves) and crazy drives around Dublin, the host city.

The film is worth watching just to see Dan Stevens  (Cousin Matthew from Downton Abbey) in the role of a lifetime, camping it up as a bare chested Russian singer.


Call My Agent! (Netflix)
The cast of hit French comedy Call My Agent.  Copyright: Variety

We have have just started watching this French comedy series (subtitled) - a rich seam as there are three seasons. I just love it.  It's about life at a top Paris talent firm where agents scramble to keep their star clients happy -- and their business afloat -- after an unexpected crisis.  It is very funny and seems bit retro in terms of how the agency operates.


Podcasts

The Habitat (Gimlet)


Podcast cover for Gilmet's The Habitat about life on Mars recreated in a pod in Hawaii
The Habitat tells the true story of six volunteer would-be astronauts who experienced Mars for a year on Hawaii. They were confined to a dome that replicated life on board a spacecraft.  They were only able to leave the dome wearing a full space suit. The experiment was designed to show what life on the red planet would be like.  It's so far away that at least a year would go by, assuming we landed there, before we could leave, in order for the planets to be aligned correctly.

The podcast features recordings made on board with a narrator, and it makes for fascinating listening - particularly around the subjects of food (dehydrated) and toilets, with interesting insights from some of the Apollo missions.

Books

Two very different books this time. First, Excellent Women by Barbara Pym.  The phrase "excellent women" was used as a condescending reference to the kind of women who perform menial duties in the service of churches and voluntary organisations. The book, set in the 1950s, tells the everyday life of unmarried Mildred Lathbury, a part-time volunteer worker who also helps out at the church. In this very genteel world, where Mildred is looked down upon as a spinster, we meet her unlikely suitors, the anthropologist Everard Bone, her dashing neighbour Rockingham Napier, and the vicar, Julian Malory.

Pym was highly celebrated for her witty, droll accounts of life in middle England in this time period.The novelist John Updike, reviewing the American release in 1978, wrote that: "Excellent Women... is a startling reminder that solitude may be chosen, and that a lively, full novel can be constructed entirely within the precincts of that regressive virtue: feminine patience."

From life in the 1950s, in post-rationing Britain, to life in a lavish gated housing development where all the women have had "work" done in the latest novel by Jane Fallon, Queen Bee.
The cover of novel Queen Bee by Jane Fallon, reviewed by UK blog Is This Mutton
I pre-ordered this because Jane Fallon has never disappointed.  I digested it over three nights.  Laura, the owner of a small cleaning company, moves into a tiny rented flat in one of the luxury houses in The Close.  Recently divorced, she finds the glossy women residents are friendly until Al, the husband of the "Queen Bee",  sets her up, and then she's ostracized. But through some clever detective work, Laura discovers the secrets Al is hiding. A witty, wry and rewarding read from the thinking women's chicklit writer.

That's all for this time. I'd love to hear any of your recommendations in the comments below.

Sharing this post with #Linkup on the Edge at Shelbee on the Edge, Anna at Muttonstyle and #AnythingGoes at My Random Musings


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