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Some of the best articles on the blog. Typically, these have a picture. It's a low entrance requirement, I know.


April 28, 2011

Lost Gems: Shoot to Kill (1990)

Posted on April 28, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Shoot to Kill

'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland were a pretty bloody time. Over 3,600 people were killed in what became a war between the provisional IRA, the British government and other terrorist groups. Although the 70s brought us things like Internment, some people suspect that during the 80s, the British government began to operate a "shoot to kill" policy, letting groups such as the army's SAS special forces regiment and the Royal Ulster Constabulary kill people without warning if they were suspected terrorists.

In 1982, six terrorist suspects were killed in three separate incidents Northern Ireland by the RUC, allegedly without warning. After an initial internal RUC inquiry which revealed that one police offer had been told to lie in his statements, another inquiry, headed by John Stalker of the Greater Manchester Police, was convened. Between 1984 and 1986, Stalker investigated the shootings but just before he could make his final report, he was removed from the inquiry and suspended from duty after allegations were made he associated with criminals. Colin Sampson of the West Yorkshire Police then took over the investigation, but his findings were never made public. Stalker alleges that during his inquiry, he was repeatedly blocked, his offices bugged and there was attempts to cover up an informal but unwritten shoot-to-kill policy.

In 1990, Yorkshire Television dramatised the investigation as Shoot To Kill, a brilliant and engrossing four-hour drama documentary directed by Peter Kosminsky (who recently directed The Promise for Channel 4). The film had originally been intended to be a straight documentary as part of ITV's First Tuesday strand. However, no one was willing to appear on-camera, partly because of the Official Secrets Act - as Kosminsky put it "They were either dead, disappeared or not allowed to talk to us." Simultaneously, Zenith, the production company behind Inspector Morse, was looking into making a drama about the inquiry so Yorkshire Television's head of drama, Keith Richardson, suggested merging the two projects. When Detective Chief Superintendent John Thorburn - Stalker's number two on the investigation and the man who was in charge of the day-to-day running of the inquiry - agreed to act as a consultant, the dramatisation got the go-ahead.

Despite its four-hour run-time, the drama was utterly gripping. Starring Jack Shepherd as John Stalker, David Calder as John Thorburn and TP McKenna as Sir John Hermon (yes, three guys named John), it was nominated for a BAFTA award in the Best Single Drama category, and won the 1990 award in that category from both the Royal Television Society and the Broadcasting Press Guild. The Sunday Times critic Patrick Stoddart described it as Kosminsky's "first and massively impressive drama". Chris Dunkely of the Financial Times said it was "the sort of programme that makes me want to stand up and cheer", calling it "admirable" and "remarkably even handed", with "splendid performances… and very superior camerawork and editing. Given that Kosminsky has never made a drama before it is an astonishing achievement. But above all a heartening one". Ian Christie in the Daily Express called it remarkable and gripping, concluding that "the film was compelling, the script and direction incisive, the performances first rate". Nancy Banks Smith in The Guardian compared the "sense of tension and throttling pressure" of the second part to that of a "Western by a great master… Will he get them before they get him? Even though you know he won't, you feel he might."

However, despite the plaudits, Shoot to Kill has never been repeated or released on video or DVD. Why? Well, in October 1990, John Harmon sued Yorkshire Television for libel over how he'd been portrayed - according to Kosminsky, the libel action eventually boiled down to "how much cold tea we had put in Jack Hermon's brandy glass". Yorkshire settled out of court in June 1992 for £50,000 (allegedly) and suspicion is that one of the terms of the agreement was that there should be no repeats - or maybe Yorkshire just didn't want any more trouble.

Whatever the reason, that was before the Internet and some enterprising young gentleman somewhere has uploaded all four hours of Shoot to Kill to YouTube and you can watch it below. Quality is VHS grade, unsurprisingly, but Shoot to Kill itself is still one of the best drama-documentaries ever made on British TV. Oh, and the final report of Stalker Inquiry, with up to 40 members of the RUC allegedly accused of criminal or disciplinary charges? Still not released.

April 27, 2011

Review: XIII 1x1

Posted on April 27, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

XIII

In Canada: Wednesdays, 10pm, Showcase

Hello, ladies and gentlemen. My name is Jason Bourne and today I would like to apologise to you and everyone else in the world for my legacy.

No, not The Bourne Legacy, although someone should probably apologise for that. I'm talking about the effect I've had on movies and television throughout the world.

Now, I used to be a super cool, secret agent, able to fight, rewire things, break into buildings, hack computers - the works. But I got shot, I lost my memory, my identity and even my real name, and it took me three movies and an awful lot of fighting and travelling around the world to get it back.

In the world of movies and television, the result has been an awful lot of films and shows in which people, particularly secret agents, lose their memories and then have to fight and travel around the world a lot to get them back, usually in a not particularly interesting way.

I'm sorry to say that now, the bottom of the barrel has been scraped. Canada, a country whose last contribution to the spy genre was InSecurity, has decided with the help of the French to make XIII, a show in which Stuart Townsend - once so promising in things like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Queen of the Damned, before ruining it all with a remake of The Night Stalker - plays a secret agent who loses his memory and has to do an awful lot of fighting and travelling around the world to get it back.

And if you watch it, you'll know what my life is like - because you'll feel like you're losing your memory, too. Here's a trailer - just for fun, see if you can spot the differences between it and the trailer for the XIII mini-series made by the same people that aired a few years ago:

Continue reading "Review: XIII 1x1"

April 20, 2011

Review: King 1x1

Posted on April 20, 2011 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

King

In Canada: Sundays, 9pm ET/PT, Showcase

So here's an interesting question: is it enough that a female character be strong? I mean literally that's the only real characteristic that she has.

Because now we have a thought experiment in actual viewing form: King, Showcase's female cop who doesn't mind ruffling a few feathers. She's been sitting in the call centre for ages after refusing to play by the rules, but now she's going to take over an investigation because the lead detective is rubbish. She's strong, she's determined, she's professional, she's smart, she doesn't mind going into the men's room when there are men in there.

And that's about it. If you pushed me, I'd say she also has a slightly dull relationship with her husband. And that she wears shoes. But honestly, that's about it.

Here's the trailer: see if you can spot some more character traits that would make you want to watch.

Continue reading "Review: King 1x1"

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