King and Corporation

13th May 2017

On Wednesday night BBC Two broadcast Rupert Goold’s film of King Charles III with a script by Mike Bartlett. It is on BBC iPlayer for the next four weeks, and if you watch nothing else in that time, make time for this. It’s a wonderful 90 minutes of beautifully achieved, bold, provocative, innovative, smartly subversive television, with a glorious performance from the late Tim Pigott-Smith at its heart. The plaudits have poured in, as I have little doubt they will continue to, and among the thoughtful press responses perhaps the most thoughtful is that by Mark Lawson for the Guardian. (Perhaps the most bizarre is ‘The BBC’s King Charles III inevitably contained plenty of howlers’ for – surprise! – the Mail, although treating the fantasy as a docu-drama is some kind of compliment.) Apart from expressing close-to-boundless enthusiasm for the film, I want here just to add a couple of thoughts about its status as television. read more »

Trevor Griffiths’ television

11th May 2017

BFI Southbank is midway through a season of the television plays of the radical writer Trevor Griffiths. Tuesday last featured the playwright reflecting on his career (and I was frustrated I couldn’t attend) but still  to come are showings of:

Tonight, 18.20, 11 May: Through the Night an exceptional 1975 BBC studio drama drawing on the experiences of Griffiths’ then-wife being diagnosed and treated for breast cancer, with a remarkable performance by Alison Steadman under Michael Lindsay-Hogg’s direction.

20.30, 16 May: Country (with Penelope Wilton, above) – perhaps Griffiths’ masterpiece, this is an extraordinary 1981 BBC film, directed by Richard Eyre, set in a country house at the end of World War Two as the Labour Party wins the election; it’s hard to argue with season organiser Marcus Prince’s assessment that this is ‘one of the greatest analyses of class power to grace our screens.

18.15, 23 May: Hope in the Year Two + Fall of Eagles: Absolute Beginners – in the former, filmed in 1994, Elijah Moshinsky directs Griffiths’ stalwart Jack Shepherd as French revolutionary figure George Danton; in the latter, the playwright dramatises the Bolshevik/Menshevik split during the Russian Revolution. read more »

Sunday links

7th May 2017

Last weekend my sister Sheila celebrated her 60th birthday in Whitstable, and a lovely occasion it was – so that’s my excuse this time for missing last week’s links. Here’s a selection from the past fortnight, with the usual implied virtual thanks to those who alerted me to many of them.

• Never before in my adult life has the future seemed so bleak for progressives: Will Hutton for the Observer pretty much nails how I (and many of my friends) feel about the world.

• The great British Brexit robbery – how our democracy was hijacked: also for today’s Observer, Carole Cadwalladr reports on the dangers to our democracy.

Democracy hacked: Kris Shaffer, C.E. Carey, and Ben Starling at Data for Democracy on

a significant, coordinated, online effort to sway the election in favor of the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, just like we observed in the US presidential election and the Brexit vote in the UK.

• The rise of the alt-left British media: Jim Waterson for BuzzFeedUK on the online initiatives promoting ‘relentlessly pro-Corbyn coverage’. read more »

Mubi.com’s mutilated prints

25th April 2017

I really like the streaming service Mubi.com. I was initially sceptical about its subscription model offering just 30 films at a time, with one dropping off each day and a new one added. But I have been entirely won over by the extraordinary and eclectic mix of movies, their smart curation and the site’s ease-of-use. From the offerings available in the UK today, for example, I really want to see the Hollywood classics directed by Frank Capra, The Bitter Tea of General Yen, 1933, and You Can’t Take It With You, 1938; the arthouse classics La Rupture, 1970, directed by Claude Chabrol, and Fassbinder’s Effi Briest, 1974; and the contemporary rarities Rouge, 2015, Sarah Winchester, Phantom Opera, 2016 and Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present, 2016. Not bad for this month’s £5.99.

I have, however, been really disappointed by a couple of recent viewings, which delivered to me prints that had been mutilated (presumably for television) by having their frame ratios altered significantly. This is a problem for a site that trumpets its commitment to the art of film, and I hope (a) that Mubi.com can be more rigorous in its sourcing of prints in the future, and (b) at the very least it can change its policy to indicate where a film is being streamed in a ratio other than that in which it was made. read more »

A 19th century Les Misérables

25th April 2017

To the Barbican on Sunday for a screening of Henri Fescourt’s glorious Les Misérables, shot in France in 1925-26, and only recently restored with breath-taking tinted and toned visuals. It now runs at its full length, which is 6 hours and then some. Special thanks for this labour of love are due to the CNC Laboratory Paris in collaboration with Pathé and The Jérôme Seydoux-Pathé Foundation.

Special thanks, and deep admiration, needs also to be shown to Neil Brand, who heroically and brilliantly accompanied the film throughout. His rich, romantic piano score balanced drama with dimuendo and the sentimental with the stirring. We started on our journey back to early 19th France at 2pm and with a couple of coffee breaks and an hour for a snatched pizza emerged happy (we had seen and heard something wonderful), sad (Jean Valjean, in whose company we had been pretty much throughout, was dead) and morally cleansed (this is Victor Hugo, mes amis). read more »

Sunday links

23rd April 2017

Although I am posting more links on weekdays, Sunday is the day for a miscellany, which is what I offer here with thanks to those who alerted me to many.

The real madman: Masha Gessen on Putin and Tr*mp for New York Review of Books:

Where Putin’s unpredictable persona is a carefully cultivated one, Trump has given no evidence that his madman act is an act.

• Fairytale prisoner by choice – the photographic eye of Melania Trump: a fascinating, brilliant and ultimately haunting analysis by Kate Imbach of the 470 photographs apparently taken by Melania that she posted to Twitter between June 2012 and June 2015.

‘Tear down the fences’ – watching Capra in the age of Trump: Joe Sommerlad on the unfashionable but highly pertinent films of Frank Capra, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington, 1939 (above). read more »

The lost television of Fred O’Donovan

20th April 2017

I am delighted that this week the new issue of the Historical Journal of Film, Television and Radio has published my article Exploring the lost television and technique of producer Fred O’Donovan’. The article is developed from a 2015 conference organised by The History of Forgotten Television Drama research project, and the issue features a number of fascinating articles based on papers presented there. Frustratingly, online access to the full article is restricted to those who have institutional access to a subscription (although the issue Introduction is freely accessible), but here is the opening of my contribution. If you would like to know more, do get in touch — John Wyver.

In the history of British television drama few notable creative figures are as forgotten as the actor, film director and pioneer producer Fred O’Donovan. After a distinguished career at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, after directing Ireland’s first feature film, and after nearly two decades’ work on the London stage, O’Donovan joined BBC Television in early 1938. As one of the first directors of studio drama he earned a ‘Produced by’ credit on more than 60 broadcasts.

These included plays by the major Irish writers J.M. Synge, W.B. Yeats, Bernard Shaw and Sean O’Casey as well as dramas by Eugene O’Neill, Chekhov and Molière. Among the actors with whom he worked were Wendy Hiller, Angela Baddeley, James Mason and Alastair Sim. On his death in the summer of 1952 O’Donovan was 67, and past the BBC’s usual age of retirement, but he was still employed full-time by the Corporation. Indeed he had just returned from overseeing a French television adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca in Paris. read more »

live: The Winter’s Tale

19th April 2017

Cheek by Jowl are currently livestreaming their production of The Winter’s Tale from the Barbican. Below is a bunch of background links and now I am intending to live blog through the evening. The stream will have subtitles in English, French and Spanish, and a recording will be available online until 7 May. It will also be available on BBC iPlayer from 23 April for 30 days.

Read from the bottom up – and do please join in the conversation using the Comments box. read more »

links: Les Misérables, 1925

18th April 2017

On Sunday 23 April Barbican cinema presents a six-hour screening of a recently restored version of Henri Fescourt’s 1925 film Les Misérables from Victor Hugo’s novel. As the Barbican promises the new print has ‘all the riches of the various colour techniques employed by Fescourt in 1925 (tinting, toning, and mordanting).’ As if that weren’t enough, the legendary Neil Brand is at the piano with a full score. It’s an unmissable event, and tickets are still available. I’ll be there – and to get us all ready for it, here’s some reading prep.

Pordenone post no 5: Pamela Hutchinson reports from a 2015 screening of the restoration at Le Giornate del Cinema Muto:

… it is a faithful, and skilful, adaptation of an uncontainable novel. I was captivated by its visual elegance but also its well crafted story, which builds almost unbearable tension despite its bountiful events, characters and subplots… Neil Brand took on the Herculean task of accompanying the whole film. He played, and played, and played, such sensitive and sumptuous music, I could barely believe it was the work of one man and one piano alone. Matching the film’s scale and singularities note for note, Brand’s score was the triumph that the film deserves.

Playing Les Misérables: Neil Brand writes on the film and the score.

It is one of the great silent films and an unmissable experience for anybody interested in what the cinema, in its purest, pictorial form, can do.

DVDKlassik on the restored version [in French, but Google Translate does a decent job].

Les Misérables, 1925 – Henri Fescourt: Wonders in the Dark in 2013 on the shorter, unrestored version.

Les Misérables (European): Kinématoscope reprints Variety’s 1926 story about the premiere of the film.

Mordaunt Hall for The New York Times reviews a recut version of the film in 1927

• The Novel of the Century by David Bellos review – the story of Les Misérables: Ruth Scutt for the Guardian on David Bellos’ recent book about Hugo’s novel and its afterlives.

links: Czech cinema

17th April 2017

Until 23 April MoMA in New York is running a season of Czech cinema from 1927-43. It looks like a wonderful series of almost unknown films.

Ecstasy and irony: Czech cinema, 1927-43: the MoMA programme page, with notes about each of the films below.

• Ecstasy and irony: Czech cinema, 1927-43: David Hudson on the series for Fandor, including a trailer for Gustav Machatý’s From Saturday to Sunday, 1931.

Czech please: Nick Pinkerton contributes a detailed essay about the series to Artforum – great read.

Tonka of the Gallows: for Film Comment, Farran Smith Nehme writes about one of the featured films, directed by Gustav Machatý in 1929.

Image: from Gustav Machatý’s Extase (Ecstasy), 1932, 35 mm, black-and-white, sound, 83 minutes.