Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️           

Categorisation: Historical romance

Availability: Netflix 

Plot:  Based on the historical romance novels of Julia Quinn, Bridgerton is pure escapism. It takes us through the excruciating courtship rituals of Britain’s well-heeled 19th century society – like farmers taking their best livestock to market, high-society families present their daughters at court for the season in hope of securing a good match. It is pre-nuptial time for the Bridgerton family and Daphne, the eldest daughter, is presented to the queen by her mother, the Dowager Viscountess Bridgerton. Declaring her ‘flawless’, Daphne passes the test and is honoured with the Queen’s blessing. The series then follows her through the highs and lows of courtship game-playing as she seeks to secure a husband. An omnipotent scandal-sheet gossip, Lady Whistledown (voiced by Julie Andrews), humorously narrates the proceedings, exposing widespread scheming as families attempt to marry off their sons and daughters. Lady Whistledown keeps everyone entertained, but it is a fascination edged with anxiety lest they themselves become the focus of Lady Whistledown’s  scandalmongering.

Cast: The two main characters Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) and Simon, the Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page) are the most eligible of all, and therefore become the centre of attention. They play their parts well, creating a chemistry that spills over into erotic scenes that are particularly well done. All the supporting actors are good, the standout being Lady Danbury, played by the splendid Adjoa Andoh.

Filming and setting: The filming is extravagant and settings are elaborate. We get to see inside the homes of the privileged, the gentlemen’s clubs, the houses of ill-repute and other sporting activities that tend to keep the upper classes amused. Intriguingly, we hear music that has yet to be composed, along with technological advances yet to be invented. 

Personal Comments:  Interestingly the drama reimagines English society during the Regency era, bringing together a multicultural cast, in the way of the 2020 film The Personal History of David Copperfield. But unlike Copperfield, Bridgerton provides a useful explanation for this reimagining – that when king George III married Queen Charlotte, a Black woman in the series, he bestowed titles upon people of colour, thus advancing an inclusionary society (it is interesting to note that some writers argue that Queen Charlotte was indeed Black Yet there are indications that it is not a fully equal society. As Lady Danbury makes clear, members of the Black aristocracy still need to be careful not to do anything that may threaten their status as it could just as easily be withdrawn. Unfortunately these, and other interesting  narrative opportunities, are skimmed over and we are treated to a very shallow drama – in the running for the silliest I’ve seen in quite some time. Just to be clear, I enjoy a clever farce. But while there is some wit and a few memorable cutting remarks in Bridgerton, there is no master, or mistress, wordsmith here. Or at least not enough to complement the silliness. Instead, the series clings to predictable old messages. For women – aspire to become a princess (or duchess), find a good husband (or any husband for that matter), and devote your life to being a good wife and mother. For men – sow your wild oats with women who don’t matter, then, once married, become decision-maker and protector of the household. In adopting these fundamental memes, you will be assured ‘happiness-ever-after.’ Clearly Bridgerton chooses to be progressive in some areas and not in others.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: TV Drama

Availability: TVNZ On Demand, BBC Scotland

Plot:  Written by Neil Forsyth and directed by Robert McKillop, Guilt was released in 2019 by BBC Scotland. It’s a story about two Scottish brothers who are involved in an accident on the way home from a family wedding. The older brother is Max, a successful lawyer with a big house, flashy car and stylish city office. The younger brother, Jake is a would-have-been rock star, if things had only gone differently. He now sells vinyl records in his Edinburgh shop, although it’s deadly quiet and we never see a customer. The brothers are completely different types of people who really don’t like each other. But a tragic accident throws them together, joining them in guilt, and they find themselves getting deeper and deeper into a muddy swamp of lies and deception.  

Cast: Everyone does well in this series.  But the wonderful standout is Mark Bonner as Max. Cunning, with a stare that magnificently displays his power and powerlessness, frustration and helplessness in the face of rising tension and imminent disaster.  Jake, played by Jamie Sivers, is also outstanding and is a perfect counter to the successful Max. Jake is a scruffy, likeable musical type, rather on the the naïve side, but with a sharper moral compass than his brother. The interplay between these two characters as they disagree about the way forward humorously drives the action. Ellie Haddington as Sheila, a neighbour who observes everything, is wonderfully fearsome.

Filming and setting:  Generally the drama is set in Edinburgh, and the leafy suburb of Leith where Jake’s shop is situated. We don’t see any of the grittiness of Glaswegian drama. Here we see a more genteel setting, with an occasional trip to seedier locations where much of the gangster activities take place. We spend more of our time in the homes of the characters. This clever connection between people and place strengthens our relationships with them. We want them to do OK, in part because we get to know them so well. We start to care about them. It helps that the writing is brilliant. The photography is also great, as is the soundtrack.    

Personal Comments:

As you will gather from my review so far, I think this is a terrific series. It is full of black humour at its best, and everyone has guilty secrets. A massive amount gets done in only four episodes – it starts with a bang and it keeps you on tenterhooks until the final scene. 

If you liked Breaking Bad, I think you will like this.

The Dry

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Crime drama

Availability: Currently in cinemas

Plot:  Richard Connolly directed this Australian film based on Jane Harper’s best-selling novel of the same name. Aerial views of flat brown farmland sets the scene – there is not a blade of green grass as far as the eye can see. The Victorian state of Australia is experiencing drought and the place is tinder dry. There has been a murder on one of the farms and three people are dead. The film’s lead character Aaron Falk, an Australian federal police agent, returns to his home town to attend the funeral of his friend Luke, his wife, and his son. It’s a murder-suicide. The only one spared, their infant daughter, was found left crying in her cot. Luke’s parents are devastated by the loss, certain that Luke was not to blame for the murders. But the townspeople are convinced otherwise. Luke’s parents ask Aaron to look into it for them. He somewhat reluctantly agrees, and then the drama unfolds as he enquiries into the tragedy. There is also a second story, told through parallel flashbacks in the film – the suspicious death of one of Aaron’s friends twenty years earlier. At that time Aaron was suspected of being culpable and was driven out of town with his father. This brings a further complexity to the primary story and Aaron’s return to the town.

Cast: This is a stellar Australian cast, with Eric Bana playing the lead role brilliantly. He brings a remarkable emotional depth to the part of Aaron, constrained in the face of hostility, his strength of character carries the action along. He is seriously good.  The supporting actors are also terrific, but of particular note is Sergeant Greg Raco played by Keir O’Donnell. There is a deeply insightful and disturbing scene when Greg shows Aaron the site of the crime and tells him how it was finding the bodies. Carefully we are drawn into the trauma of what it might be like to be a first responders to a violent death. The acting is superb and it is one of a number of examples of profound film making that takes this production to another level. Miranda Tapsell as Greg’s pregnant wife is terrific and brings welcome humour to the film. In fact, there are a number of great one-liners that balance the film’s sharp intensity.

Filming and setting: The film is shot in the Wimmera, flat planed and shimmering, it provides a perfect location for the parched fictional town of Kiewarra. At once arid and remote, it generates an atmosphere that will resonate with many Australian small towns, particularly during the drought of the mid 1990s and 2010. The environment is tough, but Connolly captures the beauty of the magnificent Australian landscape. 

Personal Comments: Jane Harper’s book lends itself perfectly to film adaptation. Like Mark Brandi’s Wimmera, and Chris Hammer’s Scrublands it captures the austere visual beauty of the Australian terrain and the dangers that exist beyond city boundaries. These books make for great reading, and this film illustrates how important they are to Australian filmmaking. It’s Australian noir – not dark and shadowy, but glorious in its sunburnt colours and every bit as sinister.

The Mess We Leave Behind

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Thriller-drama

Availability: Netflix – Spanish subtitled

Plot:  Carlos Montero created this series based on his own award-winning novel of the same name. He wrote the series screenplay and directed two of the eight episodes, so he clearly had a dominant influence on the way this book-to-screen adaptation has come together. In the first episode we are introduced to the two main characters: Viruca, a school teacher of English literature in the small fictional town of Novartis; and Raquel, the teacher who replaces Viruca when she dies in suspicious circumstances. Interestingly, this is a detective murder mystery without a detective. In fact, there is really not much of a police presence at all. Rather, Raquel becomes the amateur investigator, making all kinds of mistakes that invariably place her at risk and uncertain who to trust. It’s a tense and compelling drama. 

Cast: Inma Cuesta as Raquel and Bárbara Lennie as Viruca carry the drama with excellent performances, as we watch them shift from assertive to fragile as the series progresses. Three students play dominant roles – Iago (Arón Piper), Nerea (Isabel Garrido), and Roi (Roque Ruíz). None of these characters are particularly likeable, and there is a sense in which they seem miscast – too old for the teenage roles they play. On the other hand, they are obnoxious, immature bullies, which is a significant requirement of the plot and we are most definitely meant to dislike them. Tomar Novas plays Germán, Raquel’s drug-taking husband very well, and in general the supporting actors do a reasonable job with varying degrees of malice.

Filming and setting: Filmed in Galicia in North-western Spain, the setting for this series is spectacular. There are wonderful aerial views, something we’ve come to expect these days, and also characterful villages along with beautiful buildings. So visually, the film is stunning. Sometimes it can be confusing for the viewer when a series is told across multiple timeframes. It can be seriously annoying when a mistaken timeframe in a murder mystery requires a recalibration partway through a scene. But this is the not the case with The Mess We Leave Behind. This series cleverly and seamlessly moves between the women’s stories, using techniques that make it clear to us where we are and when. It is beautifully photographed too – even the introduction is impressive. 

Personal Comments:  We seem to be watching quite a few murder mysteries lately where the main protagonist moves from the city to a small picturesque town where things end up not being as they seem. This one is better than most, perhaps because it’s been based on a good book rather than a formulaic ‘city-slicker comes to minacious village where everyone is threatening’ scenario. If you like an edgy, suspenseful story that moves along at a good pace with lots of twists and turns, you will probably like this one.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️                 

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: Netflix – Turkish subtitled

Plot:  This series begins with the main character Meryem, a young Turkish woman, fainting at her workplace as she goes about cleaning her rich employer’s house. Then we go back a year and follow her as she is referred to counselling as there does not appear to be any physical reasons for her continuing fainting spells. Through Meryem’s story we engage with the lives of three other women, Peri, her psychiatrist, Gülbin, in turn Peri’s therapist/supervisor, and Meryem’s sister-in-law, Ruhive. These four women are representative of contemporary dichotomies in Turkish society, contrasting the conservative and the liberal, the religious and the secular, and highlighting the experiences and expectations of women across socio-economic divides in a traditionally patriarchal society. Through the experiences of the women we gain insights into the men in their lives, their families and friends, along with all of their personal biases, constraints, contradictions and anxieties. 

Cast: The acting in this series is terrific, and everyone brings to life the gamut of emotional experience. But it is Meryem, played by Öykü Karayel, and Peri, played by Defne Kayalar, who give the standout performances. Despite Meryem being delightfully unfamiliar with therapeutic processes, she gives as good as she gets in her sessions with Peri, and is not in the least bit intimidated by the psychiatrist’s professional-speak. Indeed Peri is the one who ends up confronting her own prejudices, providing some of the funniest and most poignant moments in the series. Both actors are exceptional, playing the roles perfectly. 

Filming and setting: Written and directed by Berkun Oya, the eight part series takes us to Istanbul, the bustle of the drab metropolis, the calm and beautiful countryside, and the regional areas in between. We see the homes of the rich, and the not-so-rich, and Oya cleverly uses the rituals of every-day life to slow the action down – the taking off of shoes at the door, the walks from one place to the next, the pauses in dialogue. If you don’t like watching the slower pace of everyday life you might find this frustrating. But as a function, it enables us to absorb a broad panorama of Turkish society, along with all the issues Oya presents, without being rushed or overwhelmed by their complexity. For example, there is a lovely scene where Meryem eats a chocolate and carefully smooths out its silver-paper wrapping, a detail of childhood that has impact beyond its simplicity. The psychoanalytic framing of the series is also worth a mention. Those of you who are familiar with my academic writing will know that I am not a fan of psychoanalysis. But here Oya uses it to peel back the layers of complexity in a way that expertly adds depth and humour to the drama. 

Personal Comments: Contrary to Tolstoy’s famous quote that all happy families are similar while unhappy families are unhappy in their own ways, despite their differing circumstances the families in this series do seem to share a similar unhappiness. We watch them go about their troubled lives struggling with issues that seem culturally unique, while at the same time compellingly universal – the generational changes that bring about conflict in families, sociocultural learning, diverse sexual attractions and needs, and the human search for happiness and healing. And if all that isn’t enough, Oya manages to tackle issues of mental illness, sexual abuse, disability, grief and loss. Exploring all this in a powerful yet subtle eight episodes is quite a feat. The neatness of the psychoanalytic ending was nevertheless a little too neat for me, reflecting my 4 star rating. On the other hand I am prepared to consider that this could be a reflection of my psychoanalytic prejudice than the quality of the filmmaking. Maybe I need to do a bit of work on that…

Happy New Year everyone!