Lady and the vamps
Your Weekend TV reviewer Jane Bowron shares her small-screen highs and lows.
There are a few bum notes in The Halcyon (Thursday, 8.30pm), Prime’s new eight-part period drama about a posh London hotel valiantly trying to deliver glamour at the outbreak of World War II.
And those bum notes relate mainly to the performance of hotel Halcyon’s resident band chanteuse Betsey Day. Played by Kara Tointon, Betsey exudes such exaggerated sexiness you wonder – as you glimpse her stepping out of the bath – if she’s there for any other reason.
Halcyon is owned by Lord Lawrence Hamilton (Alex Jennings) who is unhappily married to Lady Priscilla (Olivia Williams). Due to Lord H’s wildly indiscreet carryings-on with his mistress, Charity Lambert (Charity Wakefield) Lady Priscilla looks permanently pained as hotel staff try to keep mistress and Lady from being in the same room at the same time.
Sporting a bad blonde wig that looks like a leftover from a Vivienne Westwood catwalk, Charity is heard spouting pro-hitler sympathies at a backroom meeting in the hotel. Lord H and his cohorts are trying to discuss appeasement measures with constant interruptions from the mouthy mistress demanding refills of gin.
General manager of the hotel Richard Garland (Steven Macintosh) and daughter Emily (Hermione
Corfield) are experts at hotel diplomacy. Garland and the aristocrat share a sinister history, which makes Garland Lord H’s thing.
While there’s no love lost between the manager and Lady Priscilla, Emily the daughter is exchanging hot and heavy looks with Freddie Hamilton (Jamie Blakeley), a fighter pilot. Meanwhile, Toby Hamilton (Edward Bluemel), Freddie’s twin, has a lowly desk job that doesn’t impress his father – but is there more to Toby’s pen pushing than meets the eye?
There’s a crusader journalist, by the name of Joe O’hara (Matt Ryan), sniffing round looking for a scoop while the band plays on and the annoying
Downton Upstairs, Downstairs
Betsey belts out hits of the era in between air raid sirens.
Halcyon has been called the new Downton, and this drama has a costume designer and a director who hail from that illustrious series. There’s shades of Upstairs, Downstairs too, with love that dare not speak several names between toffs and staff. Other shady goings-on with a spy on the loose, and a dark secret, which has Lady Priscilla and the hotel manager combining forces, make this expensive but patchy drama worth viewer investment.
For the second week in a row, NZ on Air’s Platinum Fund is money well spent on Sunday Theatre: Resolve (TVNZ 1, 8.30pm). Based on the real-life events of the gang contract hit taken out on Christopher Crean in New Plymouth 1996, this dramatisation was made despite opposition from Crean’s family, who mounted a petition in an attempt to stop it.
Pana Hema-taylor (Westside) brilliantly portrays Crean as an earnest but exasperating, turn-the-other-cheek evangelising Christian who tries to do the right thing after witnessing a savage gang attack on his neighbour. The actors who play intimidating gang members are frighteningly authentic and a timely reminder of the extent of gang influence over New Zealand towns and provinces.
Wow, that happened fast. You could get whiplash tracing the timeline from women wanting to read stories in the mid-18th century, to women actually getting to star in the stories in the 21st century.
Look back to the 1750s at the outrage towards the Blue Stockings Society – fundamentally a book club where women read books and talked about the ideas in those books. Bloody wimmins and their insistence on poking their nose into man-things, like popular storytelling.
Now (carefully, don’t hurt yourself) look forward just 270 years and you’ve got yourself a lady Doctor Who. Suddenly, it isn’t enough for women to simply read or watch stories on TV and in movies, they want to be in them, too. Not as companions or in support roles – as lead characters. It’s true what they say, “The trouble always starts when you let people learn to read.”
Can we keep up with the lightning speed of this change? Not some Doctor Who fans, for sure. Apparently, feminists are ruining a lot of men’s childhoods by recasting their heroes as not-men. All I can say is, if that’s what ruins your childhood, you’re living an otherwise very blessed life.
This is not stealing anyone’s childhood stories – box sets of the first 12 man Doctors are still available on overnight delivery to your door. No-one has actually gone to a vault and wiped the tapes. Also, these were my stories, too. I know I’m not the only dyed-in-the-wool fan who knitted their own Tom Baker (4th Doctor) scarf, but I am one of them.
At heart, we all like to see ourselves represented in our popular stories. We want to imagine ourselves as the heroes. I think about Wonder Woman going over the top into No Man’s Land at least once a day and marvel (sorry, “DC”) at suddenly understanding what it is like to have your own superhero who embodies the bravest, strongest part of your human spirit. Sometimes I let my granddaughter actually touch my Rey and Jyn Star Wars figurines, I’m that thrilled she has active girl-heroes available to her.
If David Tennant and Peter Capaldi were almost enough to bring me back into the Doctor Who fold, Jodie Whittaker is the final nudge. Already her casting has restored my faith in general Tardis magic. The anti-lady responses were just like time travelling back to the 1750s and they appear to have come from minds of inexplicably different dimensions. Except in this instance, quite tiny on the inside.
I can’t wait till the naysayers come to terms with the fact that, not only is the 13th Doctor a woman, but so are slightly more than half the human race. heads around the fact that most people don’t mind, are keen even, to watch a woman in a lead role in a popular film or TV series. That’s why the aforementioned boycott threats were proven to be as empty as the heads that made them – Wonder Woman, Mad Max, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Hunger Games and more have proven to be as successful at the box office as they are in the realm of inclusiveness. (Ghostbusters bucked the trend somewhat, but not for any gender-based reason, it was a terrible movie. It still made quite a lot of money though.) Doctor Who has a legion of fans who will continue watching, regardless of who is at the controls of the Tardis, but I also believe this casting decision will create even more of them. I might even give it a go myself.
So what’s next? A female Bond seemed a distinct possibility until Daniel Craig’s somewhat surprising decision to return for a fifth film. The name “Indiana” could feasibly belong to any gender, so perhaps a reboot of another Doctor is in order. There are so many hard-hitting female action stars these days, so who says Rocky couldn’t use a makeover?
And for the blokes who still think they’re going to catch girl-germs by watching one of these productions, that’s OK. You’ve still got prime time sport to keep you happy.