Game Of Thrones Season 6: Episodes Five + SixBookmark and Share

Monday, 10 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Hodor Caught in A Temporal Paradox (Credit: http://www.mymbuzz.com/)

5 - The Door
(Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss)

6 - Blood of My Blood
(Written by Bryan Cogman)


STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer,
Carice Van Houten, Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Aidan Gillen, Diana Rigg, Joseph Mawle, John Bradley, Dean-Charles Chapman, Hannah Murray, 
Jacob Anderson, Daniel Portman, 
Michiel Huisman,
Nathalie Emmanuel, Gemma Whelan,
 Gwendoline Christie,
Kristofer Hivju, Conleth Hill + Iain Glen

 
WITH: Jonathan Pryce, David Bradley,
 Richard E. Grant, 
Kristian Nairn, Vladimir Furdik, James Faulkner, Essie Davis, 
llie Kendrick, Meera Reed, Tobias Menzies, Pilou Asbæk,
Michael Feast, Tom Wlaschiha, Roger Ashton-Griffiths,
Ian Gelder, Hannah Waddingham, + Faye Marsay.

 

AND: Samantha Spiro, Eugene Simon, Freddie Stroma, 
Rebecca Benson, Tim Plester, Daniel Tuite, Ania Bukstein,
Sam Coleman, Kevin Eldon, Leigh Gill, Eline Powell,
Rob Callender, Ben Crompton, Gerald Lepkowski, 
Wayne Foskett, Sebastian Croft, David Rintoul, + Kae Alexander

 SPECIAL GUEST STAR: Max von Sydow


Directed By: Jack Bender
 

Showrunners + Producers: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss

Game of Thrones is now available on DVD, Blu Ray
and streaming services Worldwide

Myriad viewers are presented once again with the middle episodes of the part-fantasy/part 'War of the Roses' serial epic. This sixth run of adventures to feature some of the most iconic characters of recent times on television is mostly breaking new ground, although sometimes there is a return to the material George RR Martin so vividly produced. (And readers can certainly take their pick - there are paperbacks, hardbacks, eBooks, and even a fully illustrated edition of the very first volume).


The Kingsmoot was a riveting passage in the somewhat turtle-paced A Feast For Crows (that tome feeling somewhat flat, in that half the characters' were kept off-page until Book Five). This scene is played a little more 'bare bones' in the TV show, but still works in conveying suspense and plot progression. Having Theon bravely concede he is not a leader, due to both his mutilation and also his sister being constantly there for the Iron Islands, is one of the more poignant moments for this brilliantly-played character. Yet his 'rubber stamp' of Yara's stirring speech is quickly quashed by the self proclaimed murderer of King Balon.

Although their father was not a good man, or particularly accomplished, he still would have likely intended Yara to take his place. Instead Euron with his bluster, but also some credibility, is quick to seize upon the baser elements that form many of the Iron-born reavers' fundamental character traits.

The chase/christening scene is a dynamic form of direction from Jack Bender, and portrays the different factions that may play a notable role in the overall future of the kingdom. Stirring music from Ramin Djawadi is used throughout. Whilst it is heartening to see the Greyjoy siblings escape on the ‘best ships’, it is also ominous that their uncle is resolute in being able to eventually find and slay them. 

*

Whilst Episode Three saw Sam's story arc tread water, there is now proper progress here. For some time it had been clear just how unpleasant was the highborn Randyll Tarly, and in particular how poorly he regarded his son. Regardless of the character only being depicted through spoken dialogue, viewers truly felt for Sam. Finally Randyll has an onscreen guise, (and the casting of James Faulkner is once again spot on). That his other son Dickon is relatively meek, and both his wife and daughter are so placid, takes away nothing from his grim gravitas. With Tywin now conclusively out of the show, it is good to have a reminder of how special Charles Dance's contributions were in days of yesteryear. 

Sam is learned and intelligent, but under such a barrage of verbal abuse and contempt by his own father, he is powerless to prevent headstrong Gilly from revealing her true origins. The tension at the dinner table is as worrying a moment to long-term viewers as any 'blood and guts' swordplay. The key difference lies in the subtlety of spoken dialogue, as opposed to choreographed action. The stolen Heartsbane is a loss to Horn Hill, but a triumph for Sam. It shows how much he has grown as a (makeshift) warrior, and a dedicated partner and friend for those closest to him.

*

Jorah has been 'lost' in many respects, even before we first met him in Season One, due to the magnitude of his being a disgraced knight. He had however found a purpose in being so devoted to his Queen. Yet twice she banished him. This time he wishes to dismiss himself, and for the very last time, but instead is tasked with finding a cure for his greyscale infection. This is no mean task, but should he (somehow) succeed, then he is expected to return to Dany's side, upon her 'rightful' acquisition of the Iron Throne. Whether this will ever happen is a very open question, but the key to this scene having such resonance lies in the brilliant acting from Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen play their roles. It also is intriguing, in having Daario feel for Dany's clashing emotions, even if he still dislikes Jorah. 

A terrific tracking shot of Dany's Khalasar following her, as Jorah prepares to leave, highlights just how slick a show Thrones is, and how worthy it has been of its various cinema 'upscalings' in recent times. In the concluding scene of Blood Of My Blood it becomes clear how devoted Dany is to her Dothraki identity (without of course ever relinquishing her Targaryen origins). Her proclamation that her warriors will cross the Sea - which is unprecedented for these barbarians -  and overcome all enemies on the mainland, is a stirring moment.

Yet it remains to be seen if Tyrion's negotiations - in the absence of the established monarch - are going to pay off. There is not too much screen time for Dinklage's magnetic character, once again with this portion of episodes; with the latter seeing the grand-persuader/drunken-wit being kept wholly off-screen. As the 'Imp' is still under pressure to convince the people of Meereen that peace is secured, and that Dany was responsible, he resorts to hiring someone with the right look and way of speech.

The Most Dangerous Being in Westeros - The Night King (Credit: http://vanguardseattle.com/)

Yet another Red Woman is unveiled before both Tyrion and Varys, who represent the absent Queen. Yet the 'Eunuch' transitions from being supremely certain that he can control this visitor, to looking both surprised and frightened. Despite being a complete stranger, she manages to forcefully narrate the dreadful events that saw him castrated, and how they are part of the Lord of Light's designs. Varys had always believed he was in charge of his upward ascent in status, but the Priestess affirms how both of them were brought to this time and place, through higher powers (and designs). Ania Bukstein does great work in her limited screen time as this religious figure, which is indicative of how effective many 'minor' roles are in this ensemble TV series. Varys is always a strong presence in the show, but some earlier Season Six episodes did verge a bit too much into broad comedy. Regardless, he continues to be played with just the right amount of understatement by Conleth Hill. The show also does fine work in establishing just how much Tyrion and Varys had their comfort zone back in King's Landing. 

From hot dusty land, to wintry and forboding climes. The Door showcases a number of powerful demises, and the most moving of these applies to the gentle semi-giant that is Hodor. Whilst never the deepest character, he was kind and loyal, and Bran is almost ruthless in making a choice that results in Hodor's brutal and slow death. There also is a temporal-paradox 'echo' generated, which causes the previously articulate 'Wylis' to lose his established persona. Whilst Bran and Meera manage to make a frenzied escape, the show mainly conveys a deep impression of how time and causality may actually not always be linear. The flashbacks that have been such a strength of this latest season take on a new dimension, as the younger version of Hodor is forced to see his eventual death as Bran wargs through him.

The preceding scenes at the Weirwood, and the escape through the tunnel are again evidence of how strong the production values are for the show. Another of the Night’s King's lieutenants/underlings is destroyed by dragonglass and the effect is riveting, but nonetheless there is a sense of tension and hopelessness, as the great Tree is no longer a haven. As the few remaining Children of the Forest are extinguished, The Door has already made the viewer feel conflicted about their fate. Many centuries ago, these supernatural beings created the White Walker race, as a defensive act against the men that invaded and threatened their territories. Foresight of the dangers to the wider world, and indeed their own race, had not factored into the Children's minds.

To see yet another direwolf perish is regrettable, and also somewhat needless as he does not manage to do much damage to more than a wight or two. But by this point in the show, it also is more than expected. Whilst in some respects a mere animal, 'Summer' will be missed, as again part of the Stark legacy is lost. Now only Ghost and Nymeria remain amongst the living of this striking family of animals.

There is some scope for hope, at least. Benjen Stark, who seemed to have been killed off long ago in the show’s timeline, is back - albeit not fully alive. He had been saved by the Children at some earlier point in time. In a contrast to the creation of the Night King, his wound from a Walker was prevented from spreading, thanks to the application of dragonglass. The actor who originally played him is back as well, and this is welcome. 

Whilst the resolution of Bran and Meera's run from certain death come across as yet another fortuitous escape in this show, it still works well enough.  Plenty of fire, fury, and chaos is displayed in the woods/wilderness, and there is the extra edge of this following on from the bizarre back-and-forwards flashes of history that swirl around Bran’s consciousness as he is pulled on a sled. The transition from one old man ‘stuck in a tree’ (played by the incomparable Max von Sydow) to a still not fully adult man is set to be one of the major factors in the closing stanzas of Game Of Thrones. Benjen clearly asserts how his nephew is crucial to standing up to the Night’s King. But will his lack of being 'ready'  be too great an obstacle?

*

In perhaps a welcome change up from intensity and sadness, the theatre scenes in Braavos involve a brilliantly twisted telling of some of the major events in Seasons One to Four. Another variation of Ned is witnessed on-stage, and the Northerner’s most stupid characteristics are exaggerated, and made into his sole defining traits. This is painful for Arya to watch, but even worse is the way that the infamous beheading is rendered for entertaining the crowd; complete with an unconvincing am-dram fake head rolling onto the stage – and the crowd’s mirth at this reminds the refugee noble woman of just how tarnished the Starks’ reputation is amongst most of the populace.

The performances of most of the stage players are truly engaging - to fictional audience member and TV viewer alike. 'Sansa' is a bit part, and actress Bianca being encumbered with such limitations is truly bitter. 'Tyrion' is played as a straight-up villain, but the dwarf stage actor behind him, whilst equally confident in his prospects with women, is far less charming than the real deal. He seems to get on well enough with Lady Crane - who portrays 'Cersei' exquisitely.  Whilst Crane is clearly the best of the bunch, Bianca is determined to seize the ‘opportunities' she has been 'denied' - even if that means resorting to help from the Faceless Men. Richard E Grant does well as apparent ‘head of the company' Izembaro; a man clearly needy of a good crowd, and colleagues who do not complain of “small parts”.

Arya is still being advised by Jaqen to kill another mark, with the mysterious mentor clearly stating there is no 'chance' of evading this assignment just because Crane is a 'good' person. But the younger Stark lady sees someone who makes Cersei a lot more sympathetic than the real article (who of course is still firmly on her 'kill list), and is clearly hesitant. Eventually she defies her orders as an 'assassin in the making' and does not allow the alcohol she herself laced with poison to be drunk, going on to make it clear that Bianca had her own deadly designs in getting a 'better' role. The Waif is clearly delighted that Arya still has not committed to the different 'morals' of the House of Black and White, and finally she can cause more than just a little pain to her nemesis. However, 'Needle' had been safely in hiding, and now is set to be used as a weapon once again. 

*

Travelling briefly to Molestown from Castle Black, Sansa is contemplating how to turn the kidnap of Rickon and the Bolton control of Winterfell into a reversal of fortunes. It certainly will not be easy. A plan is currently in progress with Jon, Davos and others trying to rally forces together against Ramsey.

Having had Littlefinger re-introduced in a manner showing his supreme self-confidence, it is gratifying to see Aidan Gillen remind us of how human and weak this man can be. Memories are stirred of the excellent ‘Power is Power’ scene from back in Season Two. It is also a great moment for Brienne, who was dismissed in such an off-hand fashion as having a ‘record of failure’, when she first tried to serve Sansa. Since that embarrassing low point, Sansa has been through hell courtesy of her despicably sadistic husband. Still Baelish is no fool, and came to Molestown with both news of the Blackfish’s mustering of forces at Riverrun. Thus Sansa's Uncle could help both her and Jon. Furthermore - as seen already in Episode Four -  Baelish has secured the aid of the Knights of the Vale, and they are encamped back at Moat Caitlin. Whether Sansa trusts her long-term advisor and 'protector' to let her use these warriors to her advantage is kept somewhat unclear.

*

Some military advantage can sometimes mean nothing at all. And the High Sparrow has managed to render a (seemingly serviceable) scheme by the Tyrells and Lannisters  - to retake the City - as nothing but ineffectual. With the King taken into the fold, and the people of the capital convinced that the Crown and the Faith combined is the way forward, two noble houses are made to look clueless. Of course for viewers there had been enough build-up of Margery's seeming assimilation (but most likely this is just her being calculating), and Tommen had for some time now given Pryce's overseer zealot a lot of chances to pour propaganda into his regal ear.

Olenna, soon after making her slow-witted son Mace aware just how conclusively the High Sparrow had ‘beaten’ them, prepares to leave the Capital for a rather longer spell. Her firm verbal put down of Cersei as possibly ‘the worst’ person she knew in her long life is a great one-to-one scene for Diana Rigg and Lena Headey

The story does nice work in segueing from Jaime's humiliation as a dismissed member of Tommen's Kingsguard, to still being deeply in love with Cersei (and vice-versa), to some build-up with the situation over in Riverrun; where the Kingslayer is certain to feature in coming episodes. It is welcome to see Walder Frey and his sons again after a long break. Also, it still feels relatively easy to re-engage with the characterisations and portrayals of these shameless and cowardly opportunists. David Bradley is once again note-perfect, and his take on Walder is distinctly different from his contributions to both fictional and semi-biographical Doctor Who.


More than halfway through now the show continues to do well with its many components. This season has had a lot of material to cope with; such is both the source substance of the novels, and its own myriad threads. These two centre episodes have done fine work on exploring themes of respectively loss, fighting to regain one's 'rightful' land(s), supernatural power, as well as a nicely meta take on some of the more memorable political moments of the universally well-regarded earlier years of the show.





Atlantis Part TwoBookmark and Share

Saturday, 12 April 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Atlantis
7 - Rules of Engagement
8 - The Furies
9 - Pandora's Box
10 - The Price of Hope
11 - Hunger Pangs
12/13 - Touched by the Gods
BBC One
Released: 10 February 2014
NB - spoilers for this show feature in this review

Dedicated viewers of this new fantasy/action-adventure show will receive some nice development and twists in relation to the main story of this opening season. However problems of inconsistency and homogenous settings and set pieces are never far away -even in those episodes which reach higher quality than any of the opening half dozen.

I might as well make clear that I don't think Jack Donnelly is being used well - and by that I mean that he would be a serviceable secondary character for some other prime time TV show, or by the same token certainly watchable in a cinema released British rom-com. There are elements where he shines when he looks just a bit comical and helpless and his pretty boy looks would work well with a strong leading lady to complement him. But even with the best scripts that this writing and production team put on the table, we have a lead hero in Jason that seems to work in reminding us how low-key fantasy shows can be. If done by the numbers one story in this genre can very much resemble another. If the characters all come out with dialogue that seems labored and pre-meditated then the suspension of disbelief most viewers are required to apply just wiill not be there, due to their grounding in realistic drama elsewhere.

This show continues to invest in some fine guest stars. Amongst experienced character actors such as Fintan McKeown, Anton Lesser and David Stern, there is good work from Gemma Jones and Jason Watkins, plus some showcases of more fledgling talent like Nora-Jane Noone and Will Merrick. Many casual viewers will be quick to recognise and enjoy the efforts of widely known favourites of stage and/or screen - Robert Linsday Julian Glover and John Hannah. Just in terms of investing in acting chops, the producers are doing a fine job and may be able to build a good solid audience that have different people coming back each week for different reasons.

But it is almost then trying to be bold enough to say - "here is the license payers money to show you who we can set up a contract with.. But just enjoy the antics of the main actors -- after all they are the ones who flash on the screen at the start and end of the show. What, you want some proper development of these new character? Even if they are one-offs? Sorry, try another channel altogether'. Now I seriously doubt this experienced team who have helmed Merlin and Misfits would really want to convey such a message. But in the process of executing their work duties, they nonetheless manage to look a gift shop horse in the mouth.

Thankfully however the better regulars seem to be going from strength to strength. Pythagoras is shown to have a very dark side in relation to troubled family relations, and Robert Emms belatedly does more than just turn in an OK or respectable portrayal.. I am left hoping that he plays a more proactive role in the upcoming second season - and perhaps he will develop his acting style organically in the process. Whilst I enjoyed Will Merrick in 'Skins', I found that when called upon to be gritty and troubled as Aracas - brother to Pythagoras - rather than hapless that the actor didn't quite have the range needed. I would be happy to be proved wrong in a potential reappearance next year though, as the seeds for a good character driven storyline were sown despite the overall episode (the Furies) being less than totally successful.

Also the amiable cuddly Hercules is shown to have less than noble qualities in his determined chase of Medusa. Something that a cynic might say almost deserves the tragic twist in these two characters dynamic come episodes 9 and 10. Much buildup and character development was given over to this strong female character, who continues to be portrayed with skill and charm by Jemima Rooper. The investment the regular audience has put into this secondary lead is rewarded handsomely/. And the buffoonish Hercules is now someone to be concerned for, rather than just to laugh at and root for in a light-hearted fashion.

Which makes the generic and frustratingly slow-to-learn Jason all the more startling and difficult to comprehend. His reaction to his friends' plight, along with his development as a fighter and a quick thinker should mean there is a growth in the audiences' journey with him as he becomes a tried-and-tested Atlantean resident. Yet the mirage of believing that this is a fully-fleshed person and not a character issued with some hard-and-fast traits essentially dwindles and instead the viewer can only grasp the proportions of a forced caricature.

But the show arguably save the best for last, and in a fashion suggesting that the opening season could be shrugged off as 'growing pains' in several years time as the BBC have another big hitter. The two-part finale makes up for the rather weak eighth and eleventh episodes, and build on the sold if unspectacular episodes that realign Medusa's role is in the general scheme of things. Episode 7 is certainly the best stand alone episode of the 1st season until the finale. If such an episode became the norm and perhaps some more multi parters were used, then the show could show enough versatility to make more use of its latent potential. I hope the creative team are somewhere in a meeting coming up with better storylines that fulfil the perennial 'beginning-middle-and end' recipe for success, without being overly conventional and safe.

'Touched by the Gods' deals with some 'dead wood' that might still be of interest for a number of future episodes - i.e. evil witch Circe and Heptarian but which drama and excitement justifies.. And the twist with Pasipahes' tie to Jason may not be totally shocking but promises some fun conflicts of interest, with deep emotions clashing with pre-conceived and ruthless plans for power

My thoughts on the production values, music and other similar aspects have not changed. This is in large part due to the convention of serial show like this heavily re-using resources from episode to episode. At the end of the day the scripts and performances matter to me, being a British viewer of a home-grown show, and other elements have been perhaps less pressing - certainly when it came to watching archive TV like Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and Randall and Hopkirk. If the core of a show is strong and dynamic usually other departments 'raise their game'. At the time of writing I can only hope that someone or a group of people have turned a corner and convinced the overall cast and crew that this show is not just salvageable but actually a great treasure trove of wonder, mystery and court intrigue. In short tea-time adventures that engage the under 12s, the over 65s, and the in-betweeners in equal measure .




Atlantis Season 1Bookmark and Share

Friday, 21 March 2014 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

Atlantis
1- The Earth Bull
2- A Girl By Any Other Name
3- A Boy of No Consequence
4 - Twist of Fate
5 - White Lies
6 - The Song of the Sirens
BBC One
Released: 10 February 2014
This latest fantasy fare that went out in Autumn on BBC1's Saturday line-up is the work of Merlin’s Julian Murphy and Johnny Capps, and Misfits’ Howard Overman. Much like past BBC shows such as Merlin and Robin Hood the underlying objective is to pay homage to well-known and perennial myths, tales and legends. With a contemporary feel that intends to engage the audience with the onscreen characters , the show is also trying to retain the special, classical nature that the old stories have.

The first aspect which I wish to highlight is the strength of the show's premise. Now in some ways the solid credentials of the production/writing team would make you expect a better sense of direction for a new show than perhaps would be the case otherwise. For myself anyway the core idea of Atlantis is not fully clear or used to its actual potential. The very beginning opens in modern times as Jason (newcomer Jack Donnelly) - in every way a 21st century Englishman - goes looking in the ocean hoping to resolve the mystery of his father's disappearance. Eventually he finds a wreck underwater called 'the Oracle' then wakes up without his modern clothes in the fabled lost city of Atlantis. He quickly acquires the more modest attire of the ancient times and sets about establishing a new home and identity for himself.

There is a lack of clarity over the nature of Jason - is he an explorer from another dimension or really the bona fide Jason of Greek lore? This could have been a clever and exciting character arc but just does not go anywhere meaningful for much of the opening run. Jason is from our time and knows the essentials of Atlantis lore so is in some ways is at an advantage by being so aware of what might/should happen. Yet this is seemingly dropped in favour of a lead who is totally comfortable and familiar with his surroundings by the end of the episode.

In terms of the actual actors and the characters they are given, the show has mixed fortunes. Mark Addy plays Hercules and is back in more familiar territory as the comic relief, after his excellent dramatic performance of King Robert in Game of Thrones. No matter how lacking a storyline may be, Addy can be called upon to liven things up without needing to chew the scenary. Many moments involve Hercules coming out and stealing the scene. For despite being fat, alcoholic and slovenly he seems to be the heart and soul of the show.

Of course apart from Jason and Hercules there is a need for a third character to provide an interesting dynamic. Joining the 'man of action', and the 'past-it rogue' is the 'brains', or Pythagoras - adept at plans and anything remotely complex in mathematics. Played by Robert Emms, this regular cast member is decent enough to watch but rather inoffensive and thus bland when compared to other players. I struggle to remember notable dialogue that he happens to utter, such is the often lacklustre nature of the scripts when it comes to decent characterisation.

Jason is sadly rather weak - the inexperience of the actor being exposed -and relies on better performers around him to make his scenes work. This is especially glaring if the viewer were to compare this show directly with episodes of Merlin - with the excellent Colin Morgan. Even Robin Hood had an agreeable man in Jonas Armstrong. Thus - for the moment anyway -this trio of protagonists are not exactly likely to be the topic that people will be talking about when bringing up their television experiences of the recent weekend.

When looking at characters who appear on a recurring basis, there is more satisfaction to be gained. The Oracle, in a clever link to Jason going down to a wreckage of the same name in the opening sequences, is spookily and mysteriously conveyed by Juliet Stevenson. Even better is the wicked queen Pasiphae. Sarah Parish has done the villainess multiple times before on-screen and is reliably strong. These two actresses certainly know their craft and can add life to even the thinnest of material.

As for others in the royal court, King Minos (Alexander Siddig) has a striking visual presence but lacked a bit too much regal charisma for my liking. He is also somewhat conveniently made to look slow by all the politicking and scheming going on close to him. Ariadne (Aiysha Hart) the immediate heiress to the throne is probably the most average of the cast. She sports an appropriately 'Mediterranean princess' look and has some decent delivery but her scenes never transcend the forced plot developments that take places as one episode follows another. However she seems to get some more expressive reactions out of Jason such is their budding love story. Nonetheless I would prefer that the main lead was bringing a bit more magic to these important one-on-one scene. Donnelly certainly has the looks that would interest a princess, but he seems just a bit passive and unsure of himself.

Elsewhere in the cast, Medusa is very well played by Jemima Rooper as a girl next door with some real courage. In a welcome example of good character interaction, she brings out the best, most meaningful aspects of Hercules. Anticipating her inevitable tragic fate does evoke some bittersweet emotions almost immediately, as the viewer must accept that her capacity for good is to ultimately be subverted for great evil. For those looking for female characters to be proactive and relatively independent, Atlantis builds on the fine examples that Merlin set. Medusa is often needed for help, rescue or just some sage advice.

Another good supporting player that more than looks the part is Oliver Walker as Heptarian. He is just one notch down from the supremely wicked queen in the 'despicable enemy' league, and is a worthy combatant and thorn in the side for the main heroes. Yet even this positive is tainted by the impression that Walker would have probably done a better job than Donnelly as Jason.

In terms of other strengths, there is much soundness in the production values. The show is often lit in bright sunshine such is the warm island setting, or shrouded in atmospheric darkness due to night time or events in unknown caves. Many viewers can pick up on an overall atmosphere that is breezy and mild. The lack of being tied down by historical accuracy means that there is scope for some variety of story and events can proceed differently to what had long been accepted by readers of these myths. Sets and costumes are good, and most of the effects are perfectly acceptable for modern TV and don't take viewer out of the experience.

There are however arguably more weaknesses in this opening run which threaten to drag the show down into unwelcome mediocrity. For one, the potential that exists from the basic variety of stories is not fully harnessed and a lot of formulaic or clichéd stuff happens just a bit too often. Jason seems to have an alarming lack of judgement and sense of how to learn from his errors, although he is not the first protagonist to lack judgement in serial format entertainment. There is a tiresome pattern where he antagonises a guest character which leads to some form of mission, such as retrieving an item, protecting someone or ending the threat of some dangerous beast. The sense of jeopardy coming from the royal court with King Minos being an obstacle for seemingly 'right' reasons, and Pasiphae developing into a very powerful threat is key. However in the vent this supposed tension still plays out at times with a curious lack of oomph.

Although the settings and filming is decent enough there is far too much blurring or overlap, whereby it seems practically every episode has a wander through generic woods or a bit of 'stealth' under cover of darkness. Even more tiresome is the forced humour . While often funny, even Hercules can cause the viewer to cringe at times. One example being his description of a fellow prisoner as 'the man with the three wives [who] knows what I talk about'. This joke is fine for a fundamentally comic storyline, but the context of the actual episode is rather grim. And in the process it adds nothing to a one dimensional supporting character - of which there are plenty in the larger guest cast. This becomes a constant issue with the series - for a light entertainment show there is too much uncertainty just how to blend the less intense moments with the more harrowing ones and that is quite a disappointment given the creative team's past good work.

If things are not forced then they are clichéd half the time. Ariadne often clashes with Pasipahe over her transparently wicked intentions, offering barbed wit. No quarter is given or taken, but the writers certainly did not take long to throw out some tired lines more suited to a catfight in a 1980s 'supersoap'. Any opportunity to hint or provide interesting clues over just what happened with the late wife of the king and birth mother of Ariadne is rather glossed over. Minos clearly is a more modest role than Pasipahe but more could have been done to flesh out his character whether he is onscreen or not. With the lack of information, the audience is forced to fill in blanks relying on conventional step-mother/second wife tropes. There is opportunity though for this to be rectified in later episodes, but would require some care and attention from the writers.

Many BBC TV shows boast music that helps to make the show more effective Atlantis' musical dimension sadly reaches an unremarkable level. Every 'plot development' is seemingly telegraphed and the humour is often surrounded by a dirge of musical 'slapstick'. Mainly contributed by Rob Lane with some work coming from Rohan Stevenson, this is another element which can be improved upon. Perhaps more dynamic scripts would garner better creative input from the music department.

Despite all my issues in general, out of the opening six instalments, only two were real let-downs, i.e. 'A girl By Any Other Name' and 'Twist Of Fate'. The opener was intriguing and well-paced and in my opinion should be mimicked in later episodes for vibrant themes and character momentum. The third and fifth episodes are very enjoyable for the most part, with the sixth being decent enough and bringing some much needed tension as future plot developments look to be rather ominous for the kind-hearted central trio.

In summary Atlantis is arguably a show with just as much, if not more, potential than Merlin, with its options for exotic lands and a variety of human and animal foes, as well as crafty intrigue in the royal court. For now the overall hit-and-miss in terms of story quality is a big hurdle. Even the better episodes can lack depth, as the scripts often trot out average dialogue, and miss out on numerous thematic and 'moral lesson' aspects. The show feels less than the sum of its parts, as bits and bobs of Minoan civilization are pulled together and most episodes are self-contained and could be watched in different order, such is the loose season arc. For any proper momentum to be generated, this show will need more work from almost everyone concerned to match the fine efforts of Mark Addy and a few of those that provide supporting roles.




CloneBookmark and Share

Monday, 7 May 2012 - Reviewed by Matt Hills
Written and directed by Benedek Fliegauf
UK Release - 7 May 2012
Entertainment One
Available to purchase from Amazon UK
Sometimes difficult viewing, Clone poses a disturbing question: what becomes of the family and self-identity when human cloning is an everyday, ordinary possibility? Given a 15 certificate in the UK and an 18 certificate in Ireland, this is very much a thoughtful, grown-up treatment of an otherwise generic SF idea. The world depicted in Clone is one where “copies” are discriminated against and treated as unnatural, and where “artificial incest” occurs if a woman gives birth to a perfect genetic copy of her own mother. One of the intriguing things about Benedek Fliegauf's script is that it reveals its altered, science-fictional world mainly by implication, in brief details and glimpses of the social order. We see paperwork from the Department of Genetic Replication, but its existence otherwise remains murky and unexplored. “Copies” are spoken about by children and by a mothers' group, but we gain no wider sense of what it might mean to be a copy. There is also little or no iconography of science fiction on show here: this film could just as well be a piece of social realism which happens to be set in a world radically unlike our own.

We follow the two lead characters, Tommy and Rebecca, from their childhood meeting through to their adult reunion. When Tommy (Matt Smith) is tragically killed, Rebecca (Eva Green) decides that she wants to bring him back, carrying and giving birth to his genetic replica. Curiously, while young 'Tommy 2' has time to grow up into Matt Smith all over again, the character of Rebecca barely seems to age across the same chunk of story. Perhaps copies age at a different rate to “originals”, but if so, this tangled timeline isn't quite made clear.

Fliegauf is the director as well as writer, and his visual style is rather languid, if not sometimes glacial. Clone couldn't really be described as a thriller; it runs at one pace – slowly – making repeated use of shots that are held for an extended length of time, as well as panoramic long shots where characters are dwarfed by the landscape around them. The latter makes for a self-consciously "beautiful" movie, and one where we're insistently reminded of the laws and the presence of nature. However, the former directorial choice is slightly more puzzling, since it means that Clone typically lacks any sense of urgency. For example, when Rebecca witnesses Tommy 1's death, we are shown Eva Green's reaction in a couple of drawn-out, unflinching shots that stress her real-time acting. But there's no gear change, no increased pace in editing and camerawork to indicate the tumult of events. And given that other sequences around this are also gently paced, there isn't enough sense of contrast and heightened drama at such a key moment. Instead, the film seems of a piece; consistently ponderous and detached in tone rather than visceral and vital.

Fliegauf also enjoys repeated, mirrored motifs: young Rebecca submerges her head under the bathwater, and later we see adult Rebecca emerge from seemingly the same bathwater. Young Tommy pulls his feet under the bedcovers; adult Tommy is then revealed to be in bed. Along with these playful transitions, a couple of key images linger in the memory, perfectly capturing the theme of a refusal to let go. Young Rebecca keeps a half-eaten, browning, shrivelled pear from her first meeting with Tommy, while Tommy preserves the pet snail in a matchbox that he'd intended to give to his sweetheart all those years ago.

Matt Smith, in particular, turns in an outstanding performance, and it's hard not to share Tommy 2's dismay and disorientation at the story's eventual conclusion. Smith also engages in a wonderful bit of actorly business involving a salt shaker at one point, and there are many moments of childlike wonder and eccentricity that resonate with his reading of the eleventh Doctor. Of course, this is a role which isn't limited by the rules and regulations of Doctor Who, so as well as seeing Smith run naked into the sea, he also features in a sex scene with Eva Green – playing his social but not genetic mother – that asks the viewer to consider whether they understand this act as incest. Conceptually challenging, Clone is not always easily enjoyable, but it is genuinely thought-provoking in a way that perhaps too few contemporary films are.

Excellent actresses such as Lesley Manville and Hannah Murray are given relatively little to do, as it is the Rebecca-Tommy relationship which lies at the heart of Clone. And despite the fact that this title is being heavily sold via Matt Smith's involvement – it is his face which dominates the DVD/Blu-ray cover – he is not on-screen for long periods of the movie. In his absence, child actors cast by Fliegauf are consistently strong, especially Tristan Christopher as the young Tommy. Along with emphasizing Matt Smith's presence in its marketing, this film has also been retitled for sell-through release – shifting from Womb to Clone – presumably after it was felt that a conventional SF title would sell better to the intended audience. But given the importance of Rebecca's decision to give birth to her beloved, I think it is a very real shame that Arrow Films have fought shy of retaining the original title. Changing it somehow implies that there is something culturally unacceptable about naming the film after a basic, biological part of human reproduction without which none of us would be here at all. Instead, Clone is a far safer option, and it is ironic that a film bravely tackling awkward material has been lumbered with a bland title sharing none of its bravery, as if Fliegauf's movie has been replicated as a copy of itself.







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