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Friday, 28 January 2022

Friday Favourites: Bumper Edition - Books, Podcasts, TV

 

It's January Friday Favourites with Is This Mutton: a bumper edition of reviews of books, TV and podcasts

Dear friends. I bring you a special edition of my round-up of TV, books and podcasts.  You lucky people! 

There's a wide range of entertainment covered including latest Korean thriller The Silent Sea, much hyped film Don't Look Up, a thrilling podcast drama Last Known Position, and three books making big waves - Mrs March, Snowflake and Sorrow and Bliss. I also give my thoughts on The Responder,  Trigger Point, Hidden Assets - and plenty of others. 

Television Films and TV

My top pick:  The Responder (BBC iPlayer, Express VPN)

Martin Freeman in The Responder

Utterly breathtaking. This new spin on the much hackneyed police drama was crafted by an ex-policeman who shows police life on the beat in Liverpool as it is:  harrowing, challenging and yet occasionally uplifting or amusing.  

Martin Freeman stars as damaged PC Chris Carson, and we follow this first responder over six nights as he tackles a series of night shifts. There's a dramatic schism of attitudes towards policing between Carson and the young rookie who accompanies him at times, do-it-by-the-book Rachel Hargreaves.

Carson is a conflicted and comprised man, with somewhat divided loyaltie. He has a desire to do good, but an violent aggressive streak brought on by childhood trauma exacerbated by his experience in the police. We're only 3 episodes in, so we don't yet know the full story as to why he was demoted from inspector. 

 It is the most amazing performance by Martin Freeman, who must surely be in line for awards. His anguish rachets the tension up to almost unbearable levels.

Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan, seasons 1 and 2 (Prime)


I wasn't expecting to enjoy this but it's a class act with big budget explosions and car crashes. Based on the books by Tom Clancy, Jack Ryan is a former US Marine, now a CIA analyst with high morals, who is thrust into a dangerous field assignment for the first time and uncovers a pattern in terrorist communication. This launches him into the middle of a dangerous gambit with a new breed of terrorism that threatens destruction on a global scale. 

Season 2 sees him in a more senior role and investigating political intrigue in Venezuela with links to the US. You'll all recognize Noomi Rapace (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and The Faceless Man, Jaqen H'ghar (Thomas Wlaschiha) from Game of Thrones. Ryan is played by Jack Krasinski, who is married to Emily Blunt.

The Girl from Oslo, Netflix



A gripping Israeli-Norwegian thriller. Norwegian Pia is kidnapped in Sinai along with two Israeli hostages.  Pia's mother, a diplomat, travels to Israel while her father, a judge, tries to deal with one of the terrorists' requests, the freeing of a political prisoner in Norway.  It’s a story with lots of action,  car chases and terrorist threats along the rolling dunes and lone roads of the desert, as well as emotional conflicts set between couples, and parents and children, in Oslo and in Israel. 

What intrigued me was the dynamic between three different groups - the Israelis, the Palestinians, and a sub group of Isis.

The series was filmed in more than 100 locations in Israel, including the Negev and Arava deserts, Timna, the Dead Sea and Judean desert, as well as several Palestinian cities, along with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

The Silent Sea, Netflix

The latest thriller from South Korea, currently the country in demand for content following the success of Squid Wars. This is a thoughtful, considered drama best viewed with sub titles. 

Space explorers are sent to the moon to retrieve samples abandoned by a previous mission which ended in disaster. The  pacing is a bit ponderous at times, and the CGI in the first episode nearly put me off  (poor quality) but stick with it, this is jaw dropping stuff, particularly when we discover that there was a survivor from the  doomed previous mission and we get our first glimpse of this being.

Trigger Point, ITV Hub



Billed as a high octane drama,  Trigger Point follows Lana Washington (Vicky McClure from Line of Duty) an experienced bomb disposal officer working for the Metropolitan Police. It had mixed reactions from reviewers. We found it a bit leaden and entirely carried by McClure. A spectacular twist at the end was actually fairly predictable. We'll stay with it and hope it improves. There's no comparison with The Responder, which started more or less the same week. 

A Very British Scandal, BBC iPlayer


Now here's an interesting one.  This BBC historical drama television miniseries, stars Claire Foy (The Crown) as Margaret Campbell, Duchess of Argyll, a woman who was vilified in the early 1960s as a slut following her scandalous divorce from Ian Campbell, 11th Duke of Argyll, and the media frenzy surrounding it.

A lot of the drama centred on a photo of Margaret with "the headless man" (Google it) whose identity has never been revealed.

It's a sign of more sympathetic and enlightened times that Margaret wasn't portrayed as promiscuous in this production, but rather a woman in a sad marriage with an unpredictable and uncaring husband. It was hard to reconcile the reputation which precedes her, with how she was shown in the drama. Apart from an arty shot of the headless man, we only saw her with a platonic friend. 

Don't Look Up  (Netflix)



There's an all-star cast, including Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio and Meryl Streep, in this film about two low level scientists who realize that a planet-killing comet is heading towards earth. Their job is to convince the world's governments that action must be taken to prevent the wipe out of civilisation.

Initially I thought it was going to be a serious interpretation of a sombre theme, as the two attempted to inform the White House and came up against a wall of disbelief, mired by a Trump-esque political battle. But it soon became clear it was more of a comedy spoof, although lacking humour as far as I was concerned.

The star turn was Mark Rylance, whose hideous creation of a tech  CEO was based on Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos.

Two hours I'll never get back. 

Around the World in 80 Days (BBC iPlayer, PBS Masterpiece)



There seem to have been many adaptations of the novel by Jules Verne so initially I wasn't very interested. Mr Mutton persisted so eventually I succumbed. Brought up to date, the drama had a few modern additions. Phileas Fogg (David Tennant) is accompanied by a woman, Miss Fix, and his servant Passepartout.  Fogg accepts a bet from a so-called friend that he can get round the the world in 80 days. It's good family entertainment with Fogg getting into various scrapes.  There's a nail biting finish as Fogg attempts to get back to London in time to win the wager. There's a second series on the way.

Hidden Assets (BBC 4, iPlayer)

This Irish, Belgian and Canadian funded drama series doesn't appear to have a winning formula: it's about a division of Irish police that claws back assets for the treasury. But if you then add a terrorist attack in Antwerp and a body in an Antwerp apartment, owned by an Irish businessman whose sister owns a prestigious ship chandling business - it suddenly becomes exciting.  We really enjoyed this six-parter: high production values, believable characters, a few twists, and an easy chemistry between DS Emer Berry and her Belgian counterpart, Christian De Jong. Hoping for a second series.


Book Reviews

Sorrow and Bliss - Meg Mason  

A galaxy of stars give their endorsement to this book on Amazon, and the author is lauded as a new Sally Rooney (yes, another one). I was curiously detached and eventually keen to finish it. 

Martha seems to have a perfect life: devoted husband, career (writer). But she also has a mental illness which her mother seems to ignore, and has driven most other people away. By the time she gets a diagnosis, which is irritatingly not given a description, and starts to manage her condition, it seems too late.  


Snowflake - Louise Nealon


Another one that's had a lot of hype and breathless praise from famous reviewers. And yes, more comparisons with Sally Rooney. The author is 27 and from Co Kildare, Ireland. She studied English literature at Trinity College Dublin, and then completed a master's degree in creative writing at Queen's University Belfast in 2016. 

Debbie White lives on a dairy farm with her mother, Maeve, and her uncle, Billy. Billy sleeps out in a caravan in the garden with a bottle of whiskey and the stars overhead for company. Maeve spends her days recording her dreams, which she believes to be prophecies.

This world is Debbie's normal, but she is about to step into life as a student at Trinity College Dublin. As she navigates between sophisticated new friends and the family bubble, things begin to unravel. Maeve's eccentricity tilts into something darker, while Billy's drinking gets worse. Debbie struggles to cope with the weirdest, most difficult parts of herself and her small life. But if the Whites are mad, they are also fiercely loving, and each other's true place of safety.

It's well written, it dances between humour and sadness, but it was a touch too long. And in places, a bit unbelievable, as Debbie and her university friend Xanthe are both supposed to be clever, but converse at a purely superficial and infantile level. 

Mrs March - Virginia Feito



I found this riveting, although the description of it as "the most compulsive debut gothic thriller of 2021" had me a bit perplexed. It was the word gothic that threw me.

I'd best describe it as the story of a genteel woman, the sort who wears gloves and likes everything very tidy, who slowly unravels.

Mrs March is initially set up as a domestic drama. She's a housewife whose whole being has been shaped and moulded by how she believes others view her. But gadually, it spirals into something darker and more complex as Mrs March begins to suspect her husband of having an affair.  She starts to have delusions, and questions her own sanity. The tension is high and it's quite a white knuckle ride.

Podcast Pleasures



Now You're Asking  (BBC) 


I bring you three excellent podcasts, starting with the new "agony aunt" podcast from the BBC, "Now You're Asking," with the wonderful Marian Keyes and actor Tara Flynn.  The pair give their advice to problems submitted by listeners.  They're very good together and their advice is wise, empathetic and amusing, prompting them to give examples from their own lives.

Last Known Position (QCode)




A mystery thriller starring Gina Rodriguez and James Purefoy. This is the type of podcast I crave to binge listen, but episodes are trickling through in a slow and unpredictable manner (except for lucky QCode subscribers on Apple Podcasts). 

A team of experts is sent to recover a plane that suddenly vanished over the Pacific Ocean. On the flight was the wife and daughter of the airline's owner, the billionaire William Cavanaugh (Purefoy).  He has spent a fortune on designing a super yacht and submersible to comb the ocean for wreckage, even though nothing was found in the international search operation.

It becomes clear that something sinister is behind the plane crash - and it throws us back to biblical references (as did The Harrowing, another podcast drama I loved) and mentions of a sea monster.  Don't be put off by the monster, it's really outstanding, and a brilliant biaural experience.

Last Known Position goes into the Is This Mutton Hall of Fame. See my other podcast recommendations. 


The Real Killer (Ayr Media/iHeart)




I am always outraged by miscarriages of justice, and here is a prime example of police and legal bungling. In 1982 JoAnn Tate and her two young daughters were savagely attacked in the middle of the night. JoAnn died, the girls barely survive. Melissa, aged 7, identifies the killer as Rodney Lincoln, one of JoAnn's boyfriends. He was convicted and sentenced to two life terms plus 15 years. In 2015, Melissa recanted and says Rodney didn't do it. So who is the real killer? 

I could have wept for Rodney, who although he had a criminal record, was so obviously not the attacker. It was thanks to the determination of his daughter that he was exonerated:  for a long time Melissa refused to accept the new DNA evidence, and insisted he was the murderer.

That's it for my bumper edition. I hope you found one or two new things to try.  In the comments let me know what you think of my picks, and anything you'd like to recommend.  

Unlock Your Hidden Confidence 


Finally, while I'm on the subject of podcasts, have you discovered Lara Lauder's excellent podcast for women of a certain age, Unlock Your Hidden Confidence?  I'm her guest this week!  We have a lively chat that covers many topics from this blog, finding your own distinct style, colour choices and ageism. 
You'll find it where you get your podcasts. 




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