Claire Rushbrook

Doctor Who (2005) s02e09 – The Satan Pit

So, the title sort of gives away the big reveal. The Satan Pit refers to the giant hole in the middle of the planet, where they’ve already dug twelve miles down and sent David Tennant and Claire Rushbrook to investigate. She wants to go in the existing pit, as opposed to the tunnel they dug.

Tennant, however, doesn’t really think going into the pit is a good idea. Even if it’s not Satan. But it sure sounds like it’s Satan. What’s his story? Think Star Trek V. Yes, indeed, “Doctor Who” comes along and does Star Trek V almost twenty years later, makes it great, but also shows off what the “Who” franchise can do in contrast to what “Trek” can’t.

But the episode isn’t director James Strong or writer Matt Jones resting on their “gods in need of starships” laurels; it’s not even just a straight “Who” episode, with Tennant dealing with the Devil (or at least trying to convince Rushbrook they really don’t need to go investigate whether or not its Satan in the pit), while Billie Piper leads the humans above as their slave army of Oods turns lethal—the telepathic Oods prove susceptible to Satanic suggestion. So not only is it great Trekkie sci-fi, it’s great sci-fi action, and then there are all these great character arcs. Piper, captain Shaun Parkes, Rushbrook, Tennant—more about him abandoning Piper in their last moments versus fretting over what god needs with a starship (initially), plus Danny Webb as the security chief. It’s just a great episode. And a great two-parter. Definitely the most successful episodes of the series to date.

And it’s still the same technical team, which is a surprise. Strong just knows how to get Ernest Vincze to light better?

Perfect ending too. It all just works out so well.

If only the show can keep up this new momentum… they really do need to stay clear of the plant Earth. “Who” is better at the broad extraterrestrial sci-fi than the earthbound stuff. It also helps giving Piper and Tennant actual character arcs.

So big cheers for writer Jones and director Strong. They finally give Tennant a show deserving of him.

Doctor Who (2005) s02e08 – The Impossible Planet

The Impossible Planet has just what “Who” needs… right now anyway. There’s a new director to the series (James Strong) and a new writer (Matt Jones), and they give the series a push in a better (arguably best so far) direction. Is there going to be any momentum… probably not. “Who,” even the two-parters, is episodic not just in its storytelling but also its making. For whatever reason, Strong’s able to do a lot more with cinematographer Ernest Vincze’s DV lighting and Mike Jones’s editing than anyone else this season or last.

The titular planet has no name in the episode, not even a designation. David Tennant and Billie Piper go bandying about the galaxy and find themselves in some future time at an Earthling research station. The station is on a planet trapped in a black hole’s gravity well but immobile because of a huge power source. The researchers are digging to the core to discover what’s the power.

There’s Claire Rushbrook as the scientist, Shaun Parkes as the acting captain, Danny Webb as the security chief, Will Thorp as the archeologist (they’ve discovered some billion year old civilization), Ronny Jhutti is the tech nerd, and MyAnna Buring is the bosom-y maintenance tech. Because it’s 2006 and they’re still British, after all.

Writer Jones writes distinct characters with enough meat for the actors to flesh them out, with Strong directing the actors, which the show could use a lot more often.

Once Tennant and Piper get oriented—they also discover the humans have a bunch of slaves (called the Ood, who “need” to be slaves so it’s all right, otherwise they’d lemming apparently)—there’s a big earthquake (Impossible Planet quake) because black hole rippling the planet and the TARDIS falls in, stranding Piper and Tennant.

So as they get used to the idea of not just being trapped in a time and place—with Piper a lot more comfortable with the idea of homesteading with Tennant than vice versa—the researchers are just about to get to the core and they’re all about to find out exactly what’s going on. There are various hints—including demonic possession and the Ood acting weird—before it’s clear “Who” is about to try a different take on a very familiar fail of a different sci-fi franchise….

No spoilers (yet), but thank goodness they got the right director for this one.

Secrets & Lies (1996, Mike Leigh)

From the opening credits, Andrew Dickson’s score sets the tone for Secrets & Lies. It’s going to be severe. I don’t think there’s a light moment in the score–any of the film’s lighter moments, usually involving Timothy Spall’s ability to make people smile (he’s a photographer, so it’s a good ability), are mostly silent. The film’s simultaneously a marvel of acting and filmmaking; Jon Gregory’s editing, director Leigh’s composition, Dick Pope’s photography, they all enable these unbelievable performances from the cast. Leigh’s script (or his concepts for the story) are also essential. The film’s characters are mostly ragged from the start, with the single exception of Marianne Jean-Baptiste (as far as principals go). Jean-Baptiste is a satellite unaware of the other people she’s orbiting and even though Leigh forecasts the film’s structure from the second or third scene, it still comes as a shock when he crashes everything together. The film, which runs almost two and a half hours, has a singular structure and pace.

Little by little, Leigh and the cast build their characters and their characters’ relationships until the showdown. Everything before would be prologue if it weren’t for Jean-Baptiste, who’s the closest thing to a protagonist. She’s the one who inadvertently sets off the present action, even though she’s desperately trying to remain as passive as possible. She’s looking for her birth mother, not knowing anything about the birth mother (Brenda Blethyn in a spellbinding performance) or Blethyn’s family situation.

Top-billing goes to Timothy Spall, which is sort of appropriate–at least given the first act of the film–but once Blethyn and Jean-Baptiste’s story takes over, it’s really not his film anymore. Only it’s going to have to be his film again later, something Leigh has carefully established with the precise narrative. It’s not just how the scenes run together, it’s how Leigh directs each one. How he directs the actors, how he and editor Gregory cut each scene, how Dickson’s music seemingly compels the characters’ behavior. Secrets & Lies never shies away from being serious about its subject, this extended family in inadvertent ruin. Most of the time, with the exception of Jean-Baptiste, Leigh shoots the actors in close-up. The film rises and falls with their expressions and performances. It’s a good thing he gets such great performances out of them, even the most supporting players (for instance, Lesley Manville has a scene and a half and is spectacular).

The main cast–Spall, Jean-Baptiste, Blethyn, Phyllis Logan, Claire Rushbrook–are all wondrous. The amount of emotion Leigh gets each of them to convey, the complexities of those emotions–especially between Blethyn and Rushbrook, as clashing mother and daughter respectively–is something to behold. Logan has her own somewhat detached subplot, which gives her more and more to do as it comes closer to the rest of the narrative. She’s great. It’s impossible to enumerate the performances. Everyone’s just too good.

Secrets & Lies is long without ever being lengthy, weighty without ever being tiring. Leigh masterfully crafts this picture, essentially aided by his actors and his crew. It’s an astounding motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Mike Leigh; director of photography, Dick Pope; edited by Jon Gregory; music by Andrew Dickson; production designer, Alison Chitty; produced by Simon Channing Williams; released by Channel Four Films.

Starring Brenda Blethyn (Cynthia), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Hortense), Timothy Spall (Maurice), Phyllis Logan (Monica), Claire Rushbrook (Roxanne), Lee Ross (Paul), Elizabeth Berrington (Jane), Michele Austin (Dionne), Ron Cook (Stuart) and Lesley Manville (Social Worker).


Whitechapel (2009, S.J. Clarkson)

Why can the British make better sensationalist telefilms than Hollywood can make non-sensationalist theatricals? Maybe because the acting is better. There isn’t a single not good performance–meaning, there aren’t any mediocre performances–in Whitechapel.

Amid its sensationalist, what if someone copycatted the Jack the Ripper murders in the modern day (oddly, after the first mention of advancements, the police are pretty much as clueless in modernity as they were historically), the real story is between Rupert Penry-Jones and Phil Davis. Penry-Jones is the younger, newly assigned, politically groomed inspector and Davis is his experienced sergeant (who can’t stand him).

There’s a lot of humor from Davis, since the idea of a Jack the Ripper copycat is funny for Whitechapel detectives, which helps the tension. The gruesome murders are described more than shown (Claire Rushbrook shows up as the pathologist in a too small part) and the investigation, which has lots of red herrings, is well-handled. The identity of the villain is a lot less important than the process and details of the crimes.

Clarkson’s a decent director–it doesn’t feel like television; HD is changing the telefilm medium.

There’s the potential for pitfall at the end, but Whitechapel nimbly hops over it. It actually only ever feels like serialized television (in the pejorative sense) at that moment, when it seems as though the filmmakers are going to go for something easy and related to the Ripper angle instead of concentrating on the characters.

Good stuff.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by S.J. Clarkson; written by Ben Court and Caroline Ip; director of photography, Balazs Bolygo; edited by Liana Del Giudice; music by Ruth Barrett; production designer, Martyn John; produced by Marcus Wilson; released by Independent Telvision.

Starring Rupert Penry-Jones (DI Joe Chandler), Philip Davis (DS Miles), Alex Jennings (Commander Anderson), Johnny Harris (DC Sanders), Steve Pemberton (Edward Buchan), Sam Stockman (DC Kent), George Rossi (DC McCormack), Paul Hickey (Dr. Cohen), Christopher Fulford (DC Fitzgerald) and Claire Rushbrook (Dr. Llewellyn).


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