Iain Banks' Stonemouth has been dramatised by the BBC

Scottish author Iain Banks died in 2013 of cancer. This is a great loss to all who love books. This magnificent author was first published in 1984 with The Wasp Factory, a mainstream novel, however he is known within science fiction circles, as Iain M Banks, for the Culture series of novels. A big, philosophical, multigenerational story. In 2012, he published Stonemouth. It was the first of his novels to be adapted for TV since his death and going on the TV adaptation I get the feeling much was left out. The plot of Stonemouth is thus - Stuart returns to Stonemouth, a small coastal town north of Aberdeen, for the funeral of his best friend, who apparently committed suicide by jumping off the bridge into town. Stuart left Stonemouth after a sexual scandal and in doing so left his fiancé (his best friend's sister). All because his fiancée's dad is the drug kingpin in Stonemouth and was going to kill Stuart for humiliating his daughter. 

A good set up for a story. What the TV show does not allow is time for the viewer to get to understand the other character's perspectives. Stuart comes across as a petulant child who should get the girl because he has been in love with her since he was 12 years old. There is a fine line between endearing and stalking in this show. The story is told in two one hour episodes and this lack of time to let the supporting characters come to life is perfectly summed up when you have an actress of Sharon Small's calibre having one line (if any) in the first episode. What a waste of fine talent and a good story.

The BBC did it better over 20 years ago when they adapted Banks' The Crow Road. Similar themes of family, secrets and love, but brilliantly done with lovely performances from Joe McFadden, Bill Paterson, Peter Capaldi and Valerie Edmond. As TV adaptations go - watch The Crow Road, even with all that 1990s hair and fashion, it holds up. And it is a much better adaptation than Stonemouth.


Nursing on the Crimson Field in World War One

This year is the BBC's World War One Centenary season on TV, radio and online. As a public broadcaster the BBC commissioned more than 2,500 hours of programming and events spanning 2014 - 2018 across its international, national and local services.  If this fact alone does not convince you of the importance of public broadcasting, that would be a very sad thing. One of the programs is The Crimson Field, which has just started on BBC 1 on Sunday nights.  

This show focuses on the lives of volunteers and nurses at a fictional field hospital in France during World War One. Yes war is bad and we have seen field hospitals done before, usually by the US in programs such as M.A.S.H and China Beach, and the BBC have proven that shows led by female casts and set in a historical period are popular and entertaining, so you may feel that you have seen this show before in different guises. However, it is really worth watching, as it shows you a slice of a society in change. Like, Call The Midwife, this show mixes the sugar and medicine to tell the stories of characters that would usually be sidelined in other shows. It also showcases some great British actresses who anchor the human stories amongst the truly horrific circumstances that was World War One.

Here is where you can find just about everything about this project - iWonder guides.

Death Comes To Pemberley - A Different Type of Fun from the Original

In 2011, crime author PD James continued the story of Jane Austin's Pride and Prejudice with a tale of death and marriage. She wrote Death Comes to Pemberley, set six years after the marriage of Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett and involving the death of Captain Denny and the trial of brother-in-law George Wickham. In 2013, the book was made into a three part mini-series by the BBC, starring Matthew Rhys as Darcy and Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth.

 

Shown on the BBC between Christmas and New Year, Death Comes to Pemberley was great. The actors hold their own in iconic roles and that is the double edged sword of this story - the very long shadows of Austin's beloved characters. They are well written and excellently played and the marriage of Darcy and Elizabeth is all that Austin fans expect it to be, even if it is tested during the story. However, this is not Pride and Prejudice, this is a regency crime story which just happens to be set at Pemberley and involve the same characters. If you come expecting the former you will be disappointed. this is a different story and better for it. Sit down and enjoy the story, it is excellently done.

A Great Second Hour

The second season of the BBC’s six-part drama, The Hour is a perfect example of how to make a good thing even better.  Creator and writer Abi Morgan has built on what worked in the first season, the relationship and chemistry between the three leads, the behind the scenes of broadcast journalism and a comment on 1950s Britain, and has added a more realistic overarching political story that connects better with the creation of The Hour, the most important 60 minutes of the week. 

As the show is set in the 1950s, The Hour keeps getting compared to Mad Men.  This is a trite and lightweight comparison based on the window dressing of men and women in a media industry smoking and drinking in a decade from the mid 20th century.  The structures of the shows are vastly different.  The Hour is s traditionally structured six part drama that is made every year in Britain. For example, White Heat, Case Histories, Call The Midwife, Misfits... the list goes on.  Mad Men just happens to be set in the 1960s in New York but it is about the creation and delusion of identity.  Each season is quite different to the one before and there is no guarantee the next episode is going to be structured like the one you just watched.    These comparisons should be left behind. 

The second season of The Hour continues the quality from the first season.  It is a well written, acted and directed.  The best way to watch this show is in one setting as it is great to sink into this world and become witness to what is happening.  This season centres around the ongoing investigation into corruption and vice in Soho, London, which gives us an insight into some of the very real social problems in the United Kingdom at the time.  Britain had spent 10 years rebuilding after the Second World War, there is a shift in working class London with the influx of immigrants from post-colonial countries, the nuclear arms race has started and the US begins to flex its new superpower status on the world stage. 

As in the first series, Bel Rowley (Romola Garai) is the producer, Hector Madden (Dominic West) is the face of the program, and Freddie Lyon (Ben Whishaw) comes back from his travels around the world to be the co-presenter and chasers of stories.   I wondered how Abi Morgan was going to keep this trio’s interwoven relationship interesting and real, without dropping off into the soap opera abyss.  But she manages it with the help of three great actors.   However, the show is nearly stolen from beneath them by Peter Capaldi, joins the series as Randall Brown, the new Head of News and Current Affairs, and Anna Chancellor as veteran journalist Lix Storm.  Peter Capaldi and Anna Chancellor are two of the finest British actors and they prove it in these six episodes.  Their story is beautifully done.   

The only niggle I have with regards to character development is that Bel seems to overruled at every turn by either her new boss, Randall or told what to do by her best friend and subordinate, Freddie.  It is a bit undermining to try and say that this woman is a very good TV news producer, when she is not solving some of the problems or making some of the decisions for herself.  But don’t let that niggle stop you.  Put some time aside to watch the six episodes in one sitting and enjoy great drama made well.