Screen and sound reviews
You’d be forgiven for learning the title of and seeks grisly retaliation, Alex is drawn the BBC’s big budget, globetrotting deeper and deeper into a moral morass in an new crime drama and getting the effort to protect his family. wrong idea completely. McMafia The brooding thrill of the series is the brisk (Jan1st and 2nd; Sundays at 9pm from 7th way it connects dots between Russia, India, the January) is not, as you might assume, a detailed Arabian Peninsula, Eastern Europe, London picture of organised crime in Scotland. Nor is it and beyond – not to rack up the exotic destinations a stinging takedown of mass-market racketeering. but to convey the invisible flows of capital It is, instead, a thoroughly gripping family and a busy nexus of crime. Satisfyingly, it pays tragedy set against the global expansion of as much attention to the bonds between organised crime, both of which owe their characters, such as the alcoholic patriarch circumstances to the fall of the Soviet Union. Dmitri (Alexey Serebryakov), the warm but The Russia House might have made a better dissolute uncle, Boris (David Dencik), and, most title, but sadly it was taken. of all, the subtly stranded figure of Alex.
Here is another sumptuously made drama Norton, who has proven himself an actor of based on a book, swooping from black-tie substance in War and Peace and Happy Valley, functions and high finance, to the lairs of drug uses his good looks as a kind of disguise: runners and human traffickers. But unlike The “Always that smile,” his uncle mocks, as though
Night Manager, say, this eight-part series is the charm of an “English gentleman” made him complex in characterisation and context, unreadable. adapted from Misha Glenny’s acclaimed work Perhaps it does. Distrusted in London, of non-fiction by screenwriter Hossein Amini alienated from Russia, and contending with a and director James Watkins. That gives the world of frauds, Alex may not even know show a bullish advantage; weaving a compelling himself. “By deception we will do war,” says the narrative from vivid textures, outpacing its dependably shady David Straithairn, adopting rivals in ambition and detail. Mossad’s motto, playing a Russian-Israeli
“God, what does it take to corrupt you?” businessman with whom Alex forms a compromising James Norton’s Alex is asked, during a flirtatious alliance. That is also how McMafia does encounter in an Israeli pleasure den, but business, and here it makes for an exciting, that is also the question of the show. The son of nervy and encouragingly human picture of an exiled Russian oligarch, raised in England, everybody trapped in its web. Alex is a hedge fund manager, keen to distance himself from his uncle’s ongoing connections to dodgy international operatives. When a Russian rival survives an assassination attempt,
FlightsofFancy Grandpa’s Great Escape
(BBC One, Monday, 6.55pm), an adaptation of one of David Walliams’s highly successful children’s books, is an elaborate kind of memory game.
It is the story of a boy (Kit Connor) and his grandfather, unlikely best friends, where the older man is frequently lost in his memories as a second World War spitfire pilot. The boy, Jack, indulges these fantasies in a spirit of make-believe: “Roger that, Wing Commander!”
But set in a new-romantic, comic-book saturated idea of the 1980s, the show is also lost in memories – those of the boy. That makes for a double-bracketed nostalgia, giving us Jack’s recollections of his grandfather’s recollections: the Greatest Generation seen through the eyes of Generation X.
The fantasy of Walliams and Kevin Cecil’s television adaptation is to have them meet halfway. Grandpa (the great Tom Courtenay) is discovered sitting on a church roof, silhouetted by a paper moon, still gunning down Jerry in his mind. Persuaded by a spivvy vicar (nicely overplayed by Jennifer Saunders) into the shady Twilight Towers nursing home, Grandpa may as well be in Colditz and so Jack assists in a daring escape. “Why not let him have one final flight?” suggests the kindly shopkeeper Raj (Harish Patel), with a child’s answer to a grown-up’s dilemma, and you get the sense that Walliams also prefers to lift things off the runway of reality.
That’s sweet and understandable. It’s much more reassuring to wage battle against a comically villainous nursing home staff, led by a tyrannical Saunders in an Alpine Hat, than to deal with Grandpa’s mental and physical
Set in a new-romantic, comic-book saturated idea of the 1980s, the show is also lost in memories – those of the boy. That makes for a double-bracketed nostalgia, giving us Jack’s recollections of his grandfather’s recollections
decline. Director Elliot Hergarty corresponds with the weightlessness of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, all skidding stops, scattered marbles and sudden mannequin disguises.
But Courteney, as Grandpa, injects the frivolity of the caper with something subtly and painfully real. He can lift Walliams’ jokes with a light touch and snap to attention when ordered, but allows a soft hesitancy to his voice, a dart of uncertainty in his eyes. Like his adventure, the show is determinedly escapist, preferring its memories comforting and warm. But Courteney doesn’t forget about reality, or the wars within.
Some time ago a Danish TV company hit upon an interesting idea: that if you can hang a contest around everything from singing to baking, there’s no reason you can’t get competitive about living spaces.
Home of the Year quickly became an international franchise, but it always held a particular attraction for Ireland, where judging your neighbours by the contents of their kitchens, living rooms and bathroom cabinets has been a proud national pastime.
To introduce celebrity into this mix, however, clearly upsets the balance. Celebrities, by definition, require an unnatural degree of approbation, and programmes that require the participation of celebrities tend to give it to them. This creates the strange sensation on
Celebrity Home of the Year (RTÉ One, Tues, 9.35pm) that the three judges are considerably more worried about how they come across than the houses. Propelling their thoughts with touchingly self-conscious hand gestures they repeat the same superlatives so frequently the words become radically devalued.
“I love the natural light,” says designer Deirdre Whelan of writer Melissa Hill’s renovated bungalow. “I absolutely love it,” says the permanently enthusiastic architect Patrick Bradley of the cornicing in David Norris’s restored Georgian home. “I love the idea of ‘Love’,” says Hugh Wallace, standing in the living room of 2fm presenter Eoghan McDermott, in a moment of surrealism only slightly mitigated by having the word spelled out before him as a table ornament.
The ruse of anonymity and unprejudiced critique is blown apart early and often. Author Melissa Hill possesses a library-worth of her own fiction, displayed face front like an Eason’s shelf. Senator David Norris admits that his charmingly cluttered walls boast 17 painted portraits of him. And rugby player Mike Ross gamely concedes that if the innumerable images of his prowess on the rugby pitch don’t give him away, “They’ll think I’m the world’s biggest stalker.”
Given the scale of intimidation, you have to admire Whelan’s temerity in finding Hill’s dining table “a bit mean”, dismissing Ross’s bulky coffee table, or criticizing McDermott for not even having one. Such table talk is hard to counter. But otherwise there is so much accord that the cold smiles between Bradley and Wallace over a disagreement about the best location for Ross’s bedroom feel almost violent.
Despite some lip service paid to personality, creativity and originality, it’s hard not to take this all as an obsequious admiration of wealth. The winner, to nobody’s surprise, is David Norris’s five-floor home. Its owner has the wit to acknowledge the discrepancy between this slavish act of property fetishism and the current housing crisis by donating half of his winnings to Focus Ireland. “His home is just an extension of his personality,” fawns one of the judges. Norris, clearly aware of those less fortunate, is lucky to have one.