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Marion and Geoff series two (2003)

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Concept: 'I'm absolutely useless at jokes…'

Rob Brydon is back as the optimistic Keith, now working as a chauffeur for an American family in London. They turn out to be almost as dysfunctional as Keith's…

At the start, it's been two years, three months and six days since he's seen his 'little smashers' and he's going to allow at least five hours for the one hour journey for a supervised contact visit the next day. What could go wrong?

What's good: The quality of writing and performance are still there, with some lovely unexpected twists to lines.

What's not so good: It's not as good as the first series. Partly, it's the thirty minute episode length being a bit long – twenty minutes would have been better, and partly there's less of a story arc for Keith: he's spending more time observing the disintegration of someone else's family.

Music: A few tracks used well again.

Miscellany: He's driving around Dulwich in SE London this time – it was SW London in the first series.

Overall: Despite the extremely powerful final episode, it would be interesting to see a version that's half to two-thirds the length of this.

As if to prove that sometimes less is more, the included A Small Summer Party, a full cast version of the fateful events on the day when Marion left with Geoff, shows how good the first series was: the ten minute episode on the same incident in that is much, much better.

TL;DR More of the same, but not quite as good

Film: 4/5
DVD: 3/5

The only extra is the 'director's cut' (slightly extended in this case) of A Small Summer Party.

You can also get series one and two together.

Written by Ian

December 3rd, 2011 at 10:30 pm

Posted in DVDs,TV

Marion and Geoff series one (2000)

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Concept: 'We won't laugh at you when you boo-hoo-hoo because we love you'

Rob Brydon is Keith, a minicab driver whose life is falling apart. He doesn't get any work and he's in the middle of a divorce from his wife Marion who has left him for her more successful work colleague Geoff. She has his two sons, the 'little smashers', who he'd love to see again, but things keep going wrong. Despite this, and his trapped wind, he is hopelessly optimistic and talks to a camera in his car as he drives around.

What's good: The writing. As well as a genuine and believable story arc, there is the combination of deeply moving scenes – such as his repeated failure to see the little smashers – and unexpected humour. Keith is on the side of the underdog and, over the series, moves from being victim of events to someone in control of them, at least in part.

Any monologue based show depends on the central performance and Brydon's is astonishingly good.

What's not so good: The vast majority of the time is a single static shot of Brydon driving and not telling jokes. I like it, but the 'one long programme' (OLP) version pushes the format to the limit and, for some people, beyond. If you're one of those, there's also the option to see the original ten minute episodes.

Music: A few tracks used well.

It's not acknowledged on the cover but there is the odd musical edit for 'contractual reasons' (i.e. it cost too much to use the original track for the DVD).

Miscellany: The story about the primates at the zoo is, apparently, true. The OLP version has the sign of the zoo edited, but the episode version shows which it was.

Overall: You can see why the BBC were initially reluctant to commission this. On paper, it sounds unpromising. Fortunately for us, it was also cheap – no sets, large cast or crew!

Unlike Alan Partridge or The Office's David Brent, Keith is thoroughly likeable. It is not the cringe-making comedy of embarrassment of the other two, but more like Alan Bennett's Talking Heads. Whether or not you appreciate Marion and Geoff as much as I do depends on how much you like its utterly dry humour.

TL;DR The modern Candide

Film: 5/5
DVD: 5/5

The OLP edit with the original ten ten minute programmes as an extra – there are a few minor differences (such as the scene post-credits on the airport/zoo episode) and, as noted above, for some people, it's better watched in small chunks. The OLP has a good commentary from Brydon and co-writer, producer and director Hugo Blick, and there is also a Comic Relief special plus some out-takes and still photos.

You can also get series one and two together.

Written by Ian

December 3rd, 2011 at 2:28 pm

Posted in DVDs,TV

The Long Firm

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Jake Arnott's novel re-imagines the London underworld in the 1960s, telling the story of Harry Starks, a homosexual Jewish East End gangster, via five people he came into contact with. This adaptation cuts that down to four people – the BBC only wanted that many episodes, apparently – but retains the basic structure of the story. Some real (and safely dead) people are included, and others are 'inspired' by those still alive and thus able to sue for libel. The back cover includes a statement that the corrupt police detective inspector is not linked to a real officer with a similar name…

The basic foundation of any good film is the script, and this has that. One of the memorable things from the commentary is star Mark Strong saying that it was something everyone wanted to be in, because the scripts were so strong. Unusually, reading the book first does not spoil watching the adaptation – normally, I am left thinking 'this isn't as good as the book…' Some scenes have been moved about, such as the red-hot poker trick, but even if you know how it ends, the ride is still so enjoyable. It helps that Strong in particular is excellent, and the visual look shows how much the makers cared about what they were doing.

Episode one features a homosexual Tory peer, played by Derek Jacobi. He is seduced, in more ways than one, into working for Starks. Despite the ups and downs of their relationship (he learns you do not get something for nothing when dealing with Starks) they end as friends. One of the aspects of Stark's character that makes him such a fascinating anti-hero is shown by both his willingness to use violence, but also to just use threats. Another character is seen to move straight to the violence, shocking both Stark and Jacobi's character.

Episode two sees a fading movie starlet become involved when her partner is sent to prison. Starks asks her for help with trying to make one of his boyfriends an actor and with running his nightclub. Again, she ends up still liking him, despite assisting in a killing of a lover. (For those of us living close by it and who enjoy playing 'spot the Rivoli Ballroom', the opening scenes were shot there.)

Episode three has Phil Daniels as a 'Jack the Hat' alike, who helps investigate the killing of a young male sex worker (the narrator missing from the book) while veering between trying to avoid becoming a murder victim himself and not caring if he lives or dies.

The final episode starts with Starks in prison and being the star prize for a visiting sociologist looking for something to write about. (There's a curious mismatch between the sentence announced by the judge and the one shown in newspaper headlines etc – was there an appeal or is this just a mistake that should have been picked up?) This is the funniest of the four, with my favourite being Starks introducing the sociologist with '.. this is my biographer' before the climatic confrontation. As with all the other 'civilians', he discovers you once you're involved, you can't avoid getting into deeper waters.

TL;DR Wonderful adaptation, reflecting the complexities of the novel. Well-acted, well-scripted, well-directed.

Film: 5/5
DVD: 4/5

Two discs, with two episodes on each. Informative and interesting commentary on the first and last episodes from Mark Strong, producer Liza Marshall, and screenwriter Joe Penhall. It's 'some music edits have been made' time though (the BBC can use music for broadcast programmes under a general licence that they cannot use – for a reasonable price – when issuing programmes on DVD). I didn't notice any difference and the original score is very good.

DVD and book links:

Written by Ian

May 10th, 2011 at 8:26 pm

Posted in DVDs,TV