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May 15, 2015

Preview: 1864 1x1-1x2 (Denmark: DR1; UK: BBC Four)

Posted on May 15, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

1864

In Denmark: Aired September 2014 on DR1
In the UK: Saturdays, 9pm, BBC Four. Starts 16th May

We’ve been waiting over a year and finally, here it comes: 1864, Denmark’s latest lavish historical drama about the Second Schleswig War, starring Those People You Like from other Danish shows (including Sidse Babett Knudsen and Lars Mikkelsen) as well as Barbara Flynn (The Beiderbecke Affair, A Very Peculiar Practice) as our very own Queen Victoria.

Heard of the Second Schleswig War, have you? No, me neither. It was a somewhat brief affair that took place in - surprise, surprise - 1864, so unsurprisingly for such an overlooked, short conflict, much of 1864 is actually lead-up and background to it. Indeed, the whole show has an odd framing device to explain everything and make it seem relevant: a bored modern day teenager on a school trip.

While we follow her and see how present day conflicts have affected her and robbed her of her brother, we first journey back to the 1850s, shortly after the first Schleswig War, which the Danes had won, emboldening them towards further action a few years later. There, we meet as children two future soldiers of the 1864 war, brothers Peter and Laust, as well as Inge, the girl of their dreams and future conflicts. We see what their lives are like - harsh schools full of pro-Danish, anti-Prussian propaganda, beatings by their dad (Mikkelsen) and, erm, experiments in masturbation and the collection of emissions (Ed: was that scene really necessary?) - again contrasted with the present day slacker-robber of the framing narrative.

We also visit Knudsen, a stage actress, who’s important in Danish society, and get to watch her to do breathing exercises and Macbeth. We also get to see what’s happening in Prussia with the Kaiser and Bismarck, all of which pleasingly enough is in German.

What we don’t get in the first episode is any actual conflict or the torrid love story between Inge and the two brothers, although slightly pretentious narrator Inge does provide us with a little introduction promising us all of this; the end of the first episode also gives us more hints of what's to come later in the series.

Indeed, one might be forgiven for being as bored as the bored teenager, unless your idea of fun is either the general Danish cultural history lesson the show is intent on propagating through background detail or watching Mikkelsen occasionally ploughing fields with his top off. The first episode does end with some big shocks of sorts but nothing huge.

Oddly, things don’t change that much in episode two, with the first half remaining steadfastly in the protagonists’ childhoods, although as Inge points out at the beginning, a few dark clouds are set to appear very quickly. However, the second half moves us forward to adolescence, although not towards any real action.

If you were expecting 1864 to be an epic period war series, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely disappointed for quite some time at least. Instead, consider this more as a period coming-of-age story that will eventually have a war as a backdrop, combined with a slightly less interesting modern-day story about a teenage down and out and her relationship with a blind old man in a wheelchair whom she quite fancies robbing but slowly befriends instead.

Clearly, like so much Scandinavian TV, this is something of a slow burn and if you want things to happen, you’ve picked the wrong genre. Indeed, despite having spent two hours watching this not get to the point, I still can’t tell you if it’s worth recommending. I probably won’t be tuning in for the next few episodes (BBC Four scheduling being what it is), but I might, which is more than I usually do with a lot of Scandi dramas, so clearly this is in the upper echelons.

But despite all the effort and money lavished on it, it’s still something that could do with an awful lot of pruning and it’s by no means something that’s going to be to all tastes, even if you are into Scandi dramas.

What have you been watching? Including Birdman, The Blacklist, Arrow and American Crime

Posted on May 15, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

It's "What have you been watching?", my chance to tell you what movies and TV I’ve been watching recently that I haven't already reviewed and your chance to recommend things to everyone else (and me) in case I've missed them.

The usual "TMINE recommends" page features links to reviews of all the shows I've ever recommended, and there's also the Reviews A-Z, for when you want to check more or less anything I've reviewed ever. And if you want to know when any of these shows are on in your area, there’s Locate TV - they’ll even email you a weekly schedule.

Elsewhere, I’ve already previewed Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and reviewed Grace and Frankie, which is all the new shows I’ve had time for this week (so far…). But it’s winding down time for a lot more shows this week, so after the jump, as well as the latest episodes of Community, The Flash, Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, a look at the season finales of American Crime, Arrow, The Blacklist and Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD. Some of these I won’t be returning to next year, some I will.

I have, however, watched a movie. Well, half of one.

Birdman (2014)
Michael Keaton is a washed up actor who once played a superhero. No, that’s his role in this, which is as meta as it sounds. Here, he’s trying to put on a Broadway play to revive his career. Unfortunately, while Naomi Watts is great, the male lead isn’t, but when an accident puts him out of the running and Ed Norton volunteers to replace him, Keaton finally has a chance at success. Except Norton’s a flake and producer Zach Galifianakis won’t let Keaton fire him, because they can’t afford to.

Unfortunately, this is dull stuff. We managed to get halfway through before we lost interest completely and if you were expecting anything really to riff off Keaton’s Batman credentials in that time, you’d be wrong, beyond a couple of jokes and occasional voiceover – I believe ‘Birdman’ turns up later. Instead, it’s largely about the relationships between the film’s slightly tedious, annoying characters (including Andrea Riseborough and Emma Stone). Maybe it gets better in the second half but the first lost us.

The film’s most notable feature, though, is director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s decision to shoot the entire movie to make it look like a single continuous take. While it’s fascinating to watch (and to see if you can spot the joins), it’s more an intellectual puzzle rather than anything involving.

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May 13, 2015

Preview: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell 1x1 (UK: BBC One; US: BBC America)

Posted on May 13, 2015 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

In the UK: Sundays, 9pm, BBC One. Starts 17th May
In the US: Saturdays, 10/9c, BBC America. Starts 13th June

As we all know, it’s been a long, long time since any great acts of magic have been performed on these British Isles. Hundreds of years, in fact – perhaps not even since the time of the Raven King.

There are, of course, theoretical magicians still, those with the wit to discuss spells and the history of magic. But practical magicianship is something that no true gentleman would even contemplate. One might even conjecture that true magic is no longer even possible, leaving us with just street magicians and their mere tricks of confidence.

At least, that’s what we’ve been led to believe. Yet one Mr Norrell, a resident of the city of York and collector of rare books, maintains that in fact not only is magic possible, but that he is in fact a fair practical magician. And he would like to put himself at the services of the country in our current war against France and the tyrant Napoleon.

What say you?

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1864

War? What war?