ITV

The Wind in the Willows (1983, Mark Hall and Chris Taylor)

The Wind in the Willows has an undeniable charm about it. Directors Hall and Taylor send the first act of the film focusing on lovely details. Wind is stop motion, with a lot of intricate “set” decoration. And they do occasionally utilize their control over performers and location to get some excellent shots. Unfortunately, none of that ingenuity carries over to dealing with the characters and their storylines.

Some of the problem is Rosemary Anne Sisson’s teleplay. Sisson meanders from event to event. Most events involve Toad (voiced by David Jason), which is great. Toad’s ostensibly a lot of fun. Only most of his interactions with other characters are long shots in profile. Hall and Taylor are perfectly comfortable revealing the stop motion models’ lack of, well, fur, in close-ups, but they never bother to shoot anything from an angle. While some may be constraints of the sets, it’s not all.

Wind in the Willows is the story of four friends and there’s zero character relationship between any of them. Sisson’s script rushes the introduction of “leads” Mole (Richard Pearson) and Rat (Ian Carmichael) in a hurry to get to Jason. And Jason doesn’t really start paying off for a while. Eventually, Jason–and his musical numbers–hold Willows afloat, but not at the start. Sisson, Hall, and Taylor still need to get Pearson and Carmichael established.

They never really do. Sisson’s script is purely functional. All the sublime charm about riverfront life for adorable anthropomorphized British animals is from the stop motion. Outside the songs, nothing in the writing brings any of the charm. It’s sometimes so craven it does the exact opposite. As a result, Pearson and Carmichael aren’t the leads, they aren’t even friends. They don’t have enough time together.

And Michael Hordern, as wise old Badger, is a three dimensional pothole. Hordern’s characterization lacks warmth, Sisson’s writing lacks thought, and the character design is awkward. Badger doesn’t fit anywhere in Willows, not outside, not inside. Not even when he’s inside of his own house.

The Wind in the Willows coasts most of the way (and almost entirely downhill), it gets tedious when it should be exciting, it smacks of missed opportunity, but it does get through all right. Hall and Taylor end up having no idea what to do with the various constraints, though they do seem to understand Jason’s Toad songs are the best part.

Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe’s music, however, is way too much. It tries so hard to be tranquil and just ends up being intrusive.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Mark Hall and Chris Taylor; teleplay by Rosemary Anne Sisson, based on the novel by Kenneth Grahame; edited by John McManus; music by Keith Hopwood and Malcolm Rowe; produced by Brian Cosgrove and Hall; aired by Independent Television.

Starring Richard Pearson (Mole), Ian Carmichael (Rat), David Jason (Toad), Michael Hordern (Badger), Una Stubbs (Jailer’s Daughter), and Beryl Reid (The Magistrate).


The Indian Spirit Guide (1968, Roy Ward Baker)

The Indian Spirit Guide is an odd amalgam of two plot lines; at least by the end of the episode. Until the end, Robert Bloch’s teleplay juxtaposes them perfectly with just the right amount of interweaving.

Julie Harris plays a wealthy widow romanced by her “paranormal investigator,” played by Tom Adams (who’s a delightful sleaze). He’s dating Harris’s secretary (Tracy Reed) and charged with rooting out the fakes among the mediums Harris visits. Harris wants to contact her dead husband.

Reed’s in on it with Adams–alone with Marne Maitland, who’s great as another coconspirator–and she gets upset when Adams starts romancing Harris.

Director Baker does a solid job, especially with the talking heads; Kenneth Talbot’s photography is great. Guide looks good. It sounds good. Harris gives an excellent performance. Catherine Lacey’s awesome.

The episode needs a proper ending. Bloch (and Ward) try to get away without. They fail.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Roy Ward Baker; written by Robert Bloch; director of photography, Kenneth Talbot; music by Basil Kirchin; produced by Anthony Hinds; released by Independent Television.

Starring Julie Harris (Leona Gillings), Tom Adams (Jerry Crown), Tracy Reed (Joyce), Catherine Lacey (Miss Sarah Prinn), Marne Maitland (Edward Chardur) and Julian Sherrier (Bright Arrow).


Jane Brown’s Body (1968, Alan Gibson)

Jane Brown’s Body uses resurrection science to explore a melodrama. Anthony Skene’s teleplay isn’t bad, it’s just a little obvious in its plotting. But there’s a definite, subconscious patriarchy thing playing out and it makes for an interesting time.

Stefanie Powers has lost her memory (after being brought back from the dead). The doctor–Alan MacNaughton–isn’t a mad scientist, but a busy doctor who cares for Powers even though he isn’t good at it. Jane is strange because of MacNaughton and wife Sarah Lawson’s sincerity. Even though Lawson isn’t in it enough.

But then Powers has a suitor–David Buck as her tutor. And he’s more a stalker, something Skene doesn’t take any responsibility for.

Powers is great in the lead. Her performance is calculated but very well-calculated. Buck’s a good creep, MacNaughton’s got a nice complex role.

Jane has many problems, but its qualities mostly outweigh them.

2/3Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Alan Gibson; teleplay by Anthony Skene, based on a story by Cornell Woolwich; director of photography, Arthur Lavis; music by Bob Leaper; produced by Anthony Hinds; released by Independent Television.

Starring Stefanie Powers (Jane Brown), David Buck (Paul Amory), Alan MacNaughton (Dr. Ian Denholt) and Sarah Lawson (Pamela Denholt).


Eve (1968, Robert Stevens)

For all of its problems, Eve rarely feels stagy. Director Stevens makes the most of his location shooting, whether it’s town or country, and there are enough scenes out doors to make up for the utter lack of establishing shots. It’s for television, it’s on a budget.

It’s also got a rather poorly conceived narrative. Writers Michael Ashe and Paul Wheeler seem like they’re trying to keep Eve interesting–it’s about listless young man Dennis Waterman falling in love with a mannequin. Murder and madness ensue. Carol Lynley plays the mannequin in his imagination and Ashe, Wheeler and possibly Stevens make the odd choice of keeping her quiet.

Waterman’s in need of an imaginary friend due to the Swinging Sixties going on around him; he just wants classy romance. And Lynley is fully capable of the performance, she just doesn’t get the chance.

At least Michael Gough has some fun.

1/3Not Recommended

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Stevens; teleplay by Michael Ashe and Paul Wheeler, based on a story by John Collier; director of photography, Arthur Lavis; edited by Inman Hunter; music by Harry Robertson; produced by Anthony Hinds; aired by Independent Television.

Starring Carol Lynley (Eve), Dennis Waterman (Albert Baker), Michael Gough (Royal), Angela Lovell (Jennifer), Hermione Baddeley (Mrs. Kass), Peter Howell (Mr. Miller), Errol John (George Esmond), Barry Fantoni (Kim) and Barry Linehan (The Detective).


The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (1977, Joseph McGrath)

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The Strange Case of the End of the World as We Know It was a TV special, which might explain for the awkward structure. It has the elements of a strong spoof and some excellent scenes, but the pacing is dreadfully off.

It opens with Ron Moody’s Henry Kissinger stand-in being assassinated (no spoilers, it’s the film’s inciting event). Moody’s great in the role, with so much presence he’s the one who establishes the film. Joss Ackland then shows up as Gerald Ford. Ackland’s mildly amusing, but he’s too broad.

After Ackland, Denholm Elliot arrives in the next scene and runs a short sequence. Director McGrath does everything he can to delay the appearance of John Cleese and Arthur Lowe as the descendants of Sherlock Holmes and Watson.

Maybe McGrath’s waiting because he knows there’s not much coming.

Cleese plays Holmes like Basil Fawlty. He even repeats some of the “Fawlty Towers” physical comedy. Lowe’s great as a moronic Watson (the funniest thing in Strange Case has to be the commentary on that relationship). Connie Booth has a small role as the housekeeper and she’s funny too.

But Cleese, saddled with a moron sidekick, is supposed to be too sympathetic. The film’s never mean enough to him.

The end features cameos from various TV detectives. It’s a lengthy sequence with a couple smiles, no laughs; McGrath’s painful when he needs to show modernity.

McGrath’s direction, for television anyway, is good. But Cleese’s non-performance makes the film best avoided.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joseph McGrath; screenplay by Jack Hobbs, McGrath and John Cleese, based on an idea by Hobbs and McGrath and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Kenneth Higgins; edited by Rusty Coppleman; music by Ivor Slaney; produced by Humphrey Barclay; released by Independent Television.

Starring John Cleese (Arthur Sherlock Holmes), Arthur Lowe (Dr. William Watson, M.D.), Ron Moody (Dr. Henry Gropinger), Joss Ackland (President), Val Pringle (Black CIA Man), Bill Mitchell (Klein), Christopher Malcolm (The Other CIA Man), Gyearbuor Asante (African Delegate), Denholm Elliott (English Delegate), Nick Tate (1st Australian), Josephine Tewson (Miss Hoskins), Burt Kwouk (Chinese Delegate), Stratford Johns (Chief Commisioner Blocker) and Connie Booth (Mrs. Hudson).


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).


Frankenstein (2007, Jed Mercurio)

“a monstrous creation ; especially : a work or agency that ruins its originator”

Frankenstein. (2008). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

Retrieved October 2, 2008, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Frankenstein

I wish I could use the OED, but it doesn’t seem worth thirty bucks.

Especially ruins. Two important words for a Frankenstein adaptation. Jed Mercurio does a future Frankenstein, set in the near future–after a super-volcano covers the world with ash, presumably to allow for nighttime shooting and a small number of outdoor shots. What his Frankenstein, here a Victoria (played by Helen McCrory), does different than her filmic predecessors is create her monster for a reason–she needs to farm its organs for her dying son, William. William’s father is Henry Clerval (James Purefoy).

Purefoy is the only character, besides Neil Pearson’s Professor Waldman, whose surname the script verbalizes. The words Frankenstein are never spoken in the television movie’s ninety minutes and they’re only seen on screen briefly and half distorted. Discovering how Mercurio is going to bring familiar elements into the effort is one of the more interesting things. Because lots of the stuff is neat–a female Frankenstein married to Clerval, neat. Mercurio makes frequent homage to the 1931 film and maybe even some of the Hammer ones (I really wouldn’t know, I try to forget the Hammer Frankenstein movies).

But Mercurio’s neatness–his cuteness–is eventually problematic. Bad guy scientist Lindsay Duncan is revealed, in the end credits, to be Professor Pretorius. During the film, everyone just calls her Jane. So her status as a bad guy is disguised through a trick, but it’s also indicative of where Mercurio goes wrong. He comes really close to making something new, but fails because he’s not adapting the novel or even using it as a starting point… he’s making a neatly put together, kind of Frankenstein adaptation, one where cute homages overpower the story.

Mercurio introduces a lot of entirely new ideas to the standard–a female Frankenstein, a motive for creating the monster, a lack of responsibility (Duncan and Pearson are the ones who take over the project)… not to mention the good doctor putting her dying son’s DNA into the monster. With the rather adult romance between McCrory and Purefoy, Mercurio’s Frankenstein could go places and, until the twist ending, appears ready to plunge into the deep end. I trusted Mercurio to pull off the ending right, which might explain some of my displeasure. He copped out. He didn’t just cop out of a proper adaptation ending, he copped out of ending the story he told well. His ending is as sensational as a television movie with an obviously limited budget (the monster only gets one close-up) can get.

I think Mercurio was going for a stab at reality, but it’s unclear.

McCrory is good, though her determination in the first act is poorly paced. At ninety minutes, Mercurio’s script feels like a solid stage adaptation rather than a filmic adaptation. He’s restricted to certain sets but he doesn’t spend enough time on them. Purefoy starts out stumbling, but eventually turns in a respectable performance. Both Pearson and Duncan are goofy villains, never once believable as scientists working in academia. Benedict Wong is great as McCrory’s assistant–Ed Gore, get it? It’s cute, but it’s also only in the credits.

I wasn’t expecting much from Frankenstein–I thought it was the BBC holiday special from last year; it isn’t–but it had a lot of good material in it. But Mercurio got lost in all his busyness and didn’t concentrate on what was working right. I mean, there’s a whole subplot with the cops on the monster’s trail. It’s silly.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jed Mercurio; screenplay by Mercurio, based on the novel by Mary Shelley; director of photography, Wojciech Szepel; edited by Andrew McClelland; music by John Lunn; production designer, Will Hughes-Jones; produced by Hugh Warren; released by Independent Television.

Starring Helen McCrory (Dr. Victoria Frankenstein), James Purefoy (Dr. Henry Clerval), Neil Pearson (Professor Waldman), Benedict Wong (Dr. Ed Gore), Matthew Rault-Smith (William Clerval), Fraser James (Joe), Lindsay Duncan (Professor Jane Pretorius), Ace Bhatti (Dr. Dhillon), Julian Bleach (The Monster) and Cally Hamilton (Little Girl).


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