Upstart Crow

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Period Sitcom

Availability: You may need to search for this one – I found the DVD readily available to buy online

Plot: Upstart Crow gives us a glimpse into the daily life of William Shakespeare. But this is no highbrow series. Here Ben Elton gives us the lowbrow-lowdown on Will’s work and family life. It is visually authentic with 16th century interiors and costumes, complete with ruffs and balloon frilled trousers. Then Ben Elton’s smart script gives us a new language – an Elizabethan and contemporary hybrid. “I am a dunceling clumbletrousers” says one erring character. And when the Bard is whining about his public transport trip from London to Stratford – an ongoing gag throughout the whole series – he complains “now we’re jammed together like two boobies in a bodice”. The twenty, half-hour episodes brought together by the BBC are clever, amusing, and great fun. It’s Ben Elton at his best.

Cast: The British comedian David Mitchell plays Shakespeare perfectly as he strives to take his rightful place as England’s most important literary figure. His family remain unconvinced of his talent, and the evil and conniving playwright and critic Robert Green, played wonderfully by Mark Heap, undermines him at every turn (it was in fact Robert Green who originally called Shakespeare an ‘upstart crow’ – a cutting critique of his character that has endured over time). Everyone does well in this series. But the standouts for me are Tim Downie playing the swaggering posh-boy Christopher Marlowe, and Gemma Whelan playing Will’s bright and lively, yet constantly put-down assistant Kate. She hilariously brings the contemporary feminist voice to the series. She wants to play Juliet on the stage, but Shakespeare and Marlowe scoffingly make the obvious clear to her – men play female roles far better than any woman can …what was she thinking! The only character striking a wrong chord in the series is Will Kempe, the famous English actor played by Spencer Jones. While Jones does it well, Elton’s parody of Ricky Gervais in The Office, is excessive and becomes tiresome as the series progresses.

Filming and setting: The set is relatively simple, mostly being staged in the Shakespeare kitchen at Stratford-upon-Avon, or the Bard’s lodgings in London, with an occasional Italian excursion. It is all beautifully filmed. The biggest achievement in the series though, is Ben Elton’s script – it is rich, fast, funny and intelligent. He uses the episodes to imagine how each of Shakespeare’s plays were written, and he does so brilliantly.

Personal Comments: While I didn’t like some of the really gross humour in Upstart Crow (I concede this might be a cultural thing – the British do seem to enjoy their lavatorial humour), I think it is a terrific series. For any fan of Shakespeare, this is definitely one to watch. But be prepared – like Ben Elton’s historical sitcom, Blackadder, it’s irreverent while being historically authentic – well almost.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Satirical crime drama

Availability: Netflix

Plot: A gruesome murder occurs in Norrbacka, a small Swedish hamlet north of Stockholm. Sophie Borg, a Swedish detective, is assigned to the case. Very soon we find that Sophie is no Saga Norén, the flawed but gifted protagonist from The Bridge. They do look a bit alike and they are both inclined to strip off their sweaty tee shirts in the middle of the office when they feel the need to freshen up. But this is where the similarity ends. Sophie is aggressive, inclined to be trigger happy, and is an all-round disaster as a member of the police. In fact, she has been sent from Stockholm to Norrbacka as a punishment and it’s her last chance to redeem herself.  In an act of collegial support, the British police send Tom Brown, an equally incompetent detective who is also on his last-chance assignment. Together they miss clues and bungle their way through the investigation. Sophie continues to shoot people, and both detectives teeter on the brink of being fired. Not exactly Wallander, or Inspector Morse, although both get a mention in Fallet. But what’s great fun about this series is the way in which it hilariously subverts what we’ve come to expect of crime thrillers, while using them shamelessly to drive their comedic agenda.   

Cast:  Adam Godley plays the rather timid, yet gentlemanly Tom, and Lisa Henni plays the trigger happy Swede. As characters, they are complete opposites. She is brash and impulsive, while he is overly polite and apologetic, and they are terrific together.  The dialogue is funny, and the the supporting cast is hilarious, in particular the hopeless local chief of police Klas (Tomas von Brömssen) and his equally clueless son Bill (Christoffer Nordenrot). Both are consistently funny throughout the series, along with Stina Rautelin as Sonja Mustanaamio the team’s Finnish forensic scientist. She invariably has some grotesque fact to add at the most inappropriate moment. 

Filming and setting: Fallet cleverly uses locations from previous Scandinavian crime dramas – bleak landscapes, dark forests, and familiar scary scenes such as sinister dolls hanging from ceilings, criminals in animal heads making podcasts – that kind of thing, and all very recognisable from well known Nordic crime programmes. But this time it’s in Norrbacka with the heroes running amok in the small Swedish village that Sophie describes as “a shitty little town with horrible restaurants…” Norrbacka is her hometown and there is no doubt that she’d rather be in Stockholm. But it all looks a rather quaint from the aerial shots. Filmed in eight short thirty-minute episodes, the action bounds along.

Personal Comments:  I liked this series. It turns crime series-watching on its head, satirising the grim detective programmes that we see more and more of these days. It presents us with a polar opposite of the clever, intuitive and brilliant crime-solving teams we find in both Swedish and British crime drama. Fallet gives us an incompetent, impulsive police presence that invariably misses critical clues, accidentally shoots people, and officers being constantly on the verge of losing their jobs. It parodies crime drama, but in fact, it satirises everything. It takes potshots at gender politics, and just about every other emancipatory policy that characterises contemporary Swedish society. While the humour is not for everyone, if you like quirky and a fresh send-up of Nordic Noir, then you might like this one. It’s great fun.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Crime drama

Availability:  Netflix –  French subtitled

Plot: Babakar is the father of Assane, a first-generation French-Senegalese boy living in Paris. He gives his son a French novel about a gentleman thief called Lupin. It is part of a classic book series that is well known and much loved in France. Soon after, Babakar dies in prison having been sentenced for the theft of a royal necklace that was once worn by Marie Antoinette. Following the theft, nothing is heard of the necklace for over twenty years. Assane believes his father was framed by his employer, the wealthy and unscrupulous Pellegrini. Haunted by the injustice, he becomes obsessed by the need to clear his father’s name. His audacious plan to steal the recently found royal necklace becomes a key element in this mission. Assane, a devotee of Lupin, has become a master of deception, closely basing his criminal activities on the antics of the fictional character. 

Filming and setting: Filmed in Paris, we get to see a lot of that spectacular city. There are many beautiful buildings used as backdrops to the action. We get to see the inside of the Louvre, along with many of the spectacular artworks on show. We see the Pont des Arts bridge where Assane gives his own son, Raoul, a copy of the Lupin book (that Raoul also becomes increasingly engaged by). Two hours from Paris, we also see Étretat‘s fabulous rock formations projecting out into the ocean. The township of Étretat is actually the setting of one of Maurice Leblanc’s Lupin stories, and the series takes advantage of this connection when Assane takes his son and his estranged wife to a Lupin festival that then becomes part of the plot. 

Cast:  Omar Sy is clearly the star of the series, and he plays Assane Diop brilliantly. Sy is well supported by an excellent cast, Ludivine Sagnier, for example, does a fine job playing Claire, Assane’s often put-upon wife. While it’s easy to warm to the character of Assane it is clear that he’s not exactly reliable on the relationship front, but the focus on family gives the series emotional heft.

Personal Comments: This French series created by George Kay and François Uzan has been a major success for Netflix, and early indications suggest it will exceed the ratings of The Queen’s Gambit and Bridgerton –  both big hits for Netflix. In fact, Lupin is already the most popular foreign language series since the hugely successful Spanish series, Money Heist. Kay and Uzan keep the tone of Lupin light, whilst also touching on serious issues such as corruption, including the control of the media by the rich in French society. Despite the overwhelming screen presence of Assane, the filmmakers skilfully illustrate racial blindspots as the character goes about his criminal activities – looked at, but not really seen in the predominantly White neighbourhoods of Paris. It’s a clever series, and the heists are compelling viewing. Surprisingly, the first series is split into two, leaving us in a cliffhanger at half way point. I can’t wait to see  the second half when it’s released later this year.