Archive | International TV

An archive of blog entries about international TV programmes and production.

December 17, 2014

The Wednesday Play: The Mahabharata (1989)

Posted on December 17, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Le Mahabharata

Right now, you may have noticed, there’s a whole load of religions about to have some sort of festival or other. So to avoid all hint of bias, this week’s Wednesday Play has nothing to do with any of them and is purely of concern to Hindus – none of whom are celebrating anything right now, except maybe a birthday or two.

Peter Brook CH, CBE is one of the world’s most famous and justifiably lauded theatre directors. His career in both theatre and film has spanned decades, stretching back with the RSC to 1950 all the way through to the present day. Perhaps his most famous work, however, was a 1985 production that he had co-written over eight years with Jean-Claude Carrière and Marie-Hélène Estienne: The Mahabharata. An astonishing nine hours long, it was nevertheless a distillation in itself of the world’s longest and perhaps even most important work of epic poetry, the eponymous 200,000-line long Sanskrit text Mahabharata.

Regarded by Hindus as both a text about Hindu moral law (dharma) and its history, the poem dates back to 400BC and is perhaps as early in origin as 9th century BC. Its main plot is about the struggle between two branches of a single family – the Kaurava and the Pandava – for the throne of Hastinapura, which eventually culminates in the battle of Kurkshetra, but the majority of the work includes a wide range of other myths and legends.

Brook regarded the Mahabharata as a text of the world, so for his production, he chose a cast from countries all round the world, including Georges Corraface, Vittoria Mezzogiorno, Mamdou Dioumé and Yoshi Oida. After the production premiered at the 39th Avignon festival, Brook was to take it on a world tour for four years and at the end of that period, an abridged version a mere six hours long was filmed and shown as a two-part mini-series on Channel 4 in the UK. This was subsequently cut down to three hours for a cinema and DVD release.

Many of the cast of the stage production were to return for the mini-series, including Corraface, Mezzogiorno, Dioumé and Oida; however, in true RSC fashion, as well as some new cast members such as Ciarán Hinds, some of the original cast took on different roles, with Bruce Myers switching from Karna to become both Ganesha and Krishna, Andrzej Seweryn moving from Duryodhana to Yudhishthira and Maurice Bénichou switching from Ganesha and Krishna to Kitchaka, to name but a few.

It’s an epic in all senses and a very theatrical one at that, but if you have the time – perhaps over Christmas – you can watch all six hours of the mini-series below or you can get it on DVD. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Other versions
It's worth noting that Brook was not the first to adapt the Mahabharata, even if he was the first to adapt it in English. Because there was a film made in 1963 of just one story of the Mahabharata, Narthanasala, which again you can watch below, although your Telugu had better be good since it's not subtitled.

A 1965 film, however, made an attempt at adapting the full story in just two and a half hours, and this is subtitled, if you want to give it a go, you may be glad to hear.

As well as a 2013 film, this time 3D and animated, there have also been four Indian TV series (1988, 1997, 2008 and 2013). The earliest of these series was produced by famed Indian film director BR Chopra and despite being 94 episodes long and taking nearly two years to air, was one of the most successful programmes in Indian TV history. It was subsequently imported to the UK by BBC2.

The 2013 series, Mahabharat was equally well viewed but had a somewhat larger budget, being the most expensive series in Indian TV history.

It seems this epic has legs…

December 1, 2014

Review: The Legacy (Arvingerne) 1x1 (UK: Sky Arts 1; Denmark: DR1)

Posted on December 1, 2014 | comments | Bookmark and Share


In the UK: Wednesdays, 10pm, Sky Arts 1
In Denmark: Aired on DR1 in January 2014. Season two starts January 2015

The Danes are apparently the happiest people in the world (okay, third happiest, having dropped off the top spot this year). You wouldn’t know this from their TV, of course, which is full of serial killers and murderers (The Killing, Those Who Kill) and political intrigue (Borgen), as well as sometimes a mix of the two (The Bridge).

Even their family dramas are a bit gloomy, it turns out. A case in point is the ten-part The Legacy (Arvingerne), which like Those Who Kill has been poached away from its natural Scandi home of BBC4 in favour of AN Other Channel (Sky Arts 1 this time). The series, which comes from the same production company as The Killing, follows noted artist, free spirit and multiple-partnered Veronika Grønnegaard (Kirsten Olesen), who has a less than happy relationship with her three children, who pretty much all hate her guts, but for entirely different reasons: daughter Gro (Trine Dryholm) is miffed at being judged for ‘only’ being a secretary at Grønnegaard’s own firm and for not having any kids; Frederik (Carsten Bjørnlund) has had a bust-up so epic that he hasn’t spoken with Veronika for a year and actively tries to stop his own son from seeing her; and Emil (Mikkel Følsgaard) is off on another continent altogether.

Then there’s Signe (Marie Bach Hansen) who doesn’t even know she’s Veronika’s daughter, despite Veronika dropping into her flower shop and giving her free paintings for no well explained reasons.

But Veronika, being an artistic type, decides to screw the whole lot of them over by failing to mention she has breast cancer and then promptly dying of a stroke, leaving her much sought after house and estate to Signe to divide up between herself and her newfound siblings. That’s going to end well, isn’t it?

The extent you’re going to find The Legacy tolerable is how much you can tolerate both happiness and sadness. Despite their bad relationships with Veronika, all the families seem to be largely happy and enjoying Christmas, dressing up as Santa, having family meals together and losing track of time as they play percussion instruments together out in huts. No one’s poor and even when revelations about infidelities, bad parenting, different parentage et al crop up, no one’s dischuffed enough to even raise their voice much.

True, in case Frederik’s case, that might well be because he’s a closet psychopath whose wife is intensely freaked out by his behaviour, but he’s still a psychopath who continues joking around in his Santa outfit after getting the bad news about his mum, just to make sure his son has a nice time.

If you find all that happiness and luxury nauseating and weird, steer clear of The Legacy. Equally, if you fear family strife, dying parents, illness, old people looking like they’re dementing, upset children, will contention and slightly psychopathic sons who really want the family home, steer clear.

There’s not much by way action, which I’m sure will change with episode two, as upset siblings glare at each other and talk in hushed tones when they’re really angry (okay, maybe not psycho Frederik). But it’s a good start with different characters from the usual set you’re probably used to in such family dramas. It’ll probably be a bit ‘eat your greens’, and I suspect I’ll have to force myself to watch these, even though I did quite enjoy the first episode, but we’ll see if the show manages to up the ante in subsequent weeks. Simple scheduling maths should tell you that people should be at each other’s throats at this rate by, ooh, round about Christmas. That’ll be something to look forward to, won’t it?

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Posted on December 1, 2014 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

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