Rating: ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Historical drama

Availability: Netflix, Prime Video 

Plot: Director Martin Scorsese’s 2011 film Hugo is based on Brian Selznick’s 2007 book, The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Both are quite extraordinary. Set in Paris in the early 1930s, the film follows the adventures of Hugo, a young boy whose father dies leaving him alone to fend for himself. His uncle is a drunkard who keeps the clocks working at Montparnasse railway station. Rescuing Hugo, he takes him back to where he lives, a hidden place behind the station’s massive clock face. There, while drinking himself into oblivion, he teaches Hugo how to keep good time and maintain the clocks. Hugo has inherited a talent for fixing things from his father, and when his uncle fails to return to the station one day, he takes over the job. Living secretly behind the clock he observes busy Parisian life below. Having no means of support Hugo gets by stealing food from the station carts and cafés. He evades the grasp of Inspector Gustav Dasté of the station police, who is determined to catch itinerant children and bundle them off to the local orphanage. But Hugo’s precarious existence is only part of this complex story. It is also an adventure to discover the origins of cinema, and soon Hugo is drawn into the magical lives of the people who created the world’s first moving pictures. 

Cast: Asa Butterfield is cast as Hugo, but it’s his friend Isabelle, played by Chloë Grace Moretz who delightfully steals the scenes. Ben Kingsley puts in a good performance as the toy merchant who variously challenges and supports Hugo, but it’s Sacha Baron Cohen who shines. His portrayal  as the awkward Inspector Gustav Dasté provides a good deal of the fun, momentum and even a bit of romance in the film. 

Filming and Setting: Hugo is a joyful film with a most spectacular opening scene that takes us on an aero-gliding journey across snow-dusted Paris, and then descends into the inner workings of the Montparnasse station. In a masterclass of filmmaking, the camerawork is thrilling as it accelerates toward a pair of eyes that peek out from behind the face of the platform clock. It’s Hugo watching the people of the station begin their day. Rich and beautifully filmed, each frame is a visual theatrical treat. While the first half of the film is based on Hugo’s story, as the plot develops the focus changes and Scorsese tells us the story of the origins of filmmaking – the Lumière brothers who put on the first show in 1895, and Georges Méliès who saw the show and was inspired to become one of the most prolific and famous filmmakers of the time.

Personal Comments: This time last year, I searched for the least worst Christmas film I could find to celebrate the season. In the end I went for the shortest ( This year, instead, I chose an enchanting film that families would enjoy at this time of year. Hugo is a tribute to early filmmakers who used the rudimentary technology that was available to them to entrance audiences and who went on to establish the movie industry. If you are a film aficionado you will love it.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Comedy drama

Availability: TVNZ on demand, ABC iview, Prime Video

Plot: The parish of St Saviour in the Marshes has a new vicar, the Reverend Adam Smallbone. He and his wife, Alex, a legal aid solicitor, have moved to inner-city East London from a rural parish. It’s clear from the beginning that things are not going to be easy. Responsible for an elegant but leaking sixteenth century church and a motley group of parishioners, moral and ecclesiastical dilemmas come thick and fast. Not only does Adam have to deal with a variety of local reprobates, the Archdeacon is putting pressure on him to save the church from financial ruin. While ultimately good intentioned and certainly determined to prevent the closure of the church, Adam’s constant missteps create more problems than he solves. While his faith remains strong, he is beset by failure, and then scandal and humiliation, which makes him question whether he is ultimately right for the ministry.

Filming and Setting: The church scenes were filmed in St Leonard’s, an ancient parish church in Shoreditch, East London. The first episode centres on the church’s glorious stained glass window that has been vandalised, adding to the church’s mounting financial troubles. The deprived inner city environment of St Saviour is grimly captured, rubbish everywhere, and heavy traffic circling the church. While Adam is excited by the challenges of his new role, every scene illustrates just how difficult this is going to be. It’s a quality production.

Cast: Tom Hollander takes the lead as Adam, and Olivia Colman is Alex, Adam’s wife. Both actors are at the top of their game, and it shows. There is a chemistry between them that also helps us to better understand how such an intelligent and vibrant woman can end up falling for such a deeply flawed man like Adam. Of the supporting actors, Miles Jupp is terrific as Nigel, Adam’s lay minister. His thick vein of jealousy provides the opportunity for some great lines that are delivered with wonderful venom. Jimmy Akingbola is seriously disturbing as Mick, who is constantly turning up on the vicarage doorstep looking for money to support his drug habit. Steve Evets is superbly cast as Colin, the recovering drug addict who acts as a foil to Adam. But best of all is Simon McBurney as the acerbic Archdeacon Robert. This multi award-winning actor eloquently steals every scene in which he appears.

Personal Comments: Created for the BBC by Tom Hollander and James Wood, Rev. is a production in three parts. Series 1 and 2 are comedic and, in the way of good comedy, often poignant. Series 3 is different. There are still elements of humour, but there is a discernible shift toward a more serious drama about a man who is losing his way, the nature and impact of transgression, and the question of forgiveness and redemption. I was troubled by some of the messages, particularly when an ex convict seeks solace in the church only to find prejudice and a deeply imbedded hierarchy that positions some transgressors as worthy of forgiveness while others remain unforgiven and shunned. This is reinforced when a joke is made of the penitent sex offender being beaten-up by Colin, the profligate yet self-righteous parishioner. It was a wrong note that might have been better handled. Overall though, despite having one or two reservations, Rev. is a very good production that makes you think about the role of the church in contemporary urban society, and the foibles of the people who do their best to try to make things work. There is also a Christmas special at the end of the second series, so it’s a good time to be watching it right now.


Rating:  ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: Netflix

Plot: As her debut film, Rebecca Hall has adapted Nella Larsen’s 1929 novella, Passing. It is a story about two African-American women, old school friends, Irene and Clare, whose light skin colour enables them to ‘pass’ as a white person in American society. They meet by chance in an ‘whites-only’ hotel in upmarket Manhattan having not seen each other since their schooldays. Irene, has retreated there, hot and bothered, after a day of shopping. Laden with expensive-looking parcels, the doorman welcomes her and she is led to a white-clothed table. There is an air of tension as she waits. Then Clare arrives and taking a table across the room, she locks eyes with Irene for an uncomfortable length of time, after which she walks over to join her. While Clare clearly recognises her old friend, Irene has trouble placing her until, in a flood of remembrance, the women reconnect. It’s a powerful scene, both women ‘passing’ together in a place that is forbidden to them in America’s racially prohibitive era. 

As they talk it is clear that their lives have turned out very differently. Irene, serious and respectable, is part of the New York Black elite, living with with her husband and two sons in their large brownstone house in Harlem. She is active in the Negro Welfare League, and they have a black maid, Zu, who caters for their needs. Irene doesn’t usually ‘pass’, and the reason why she does so on this day remains unexplained. Clare, whose hair is bleached blonde, is confident, dynamic and vivacious. She’s been passing as white since she moved to live with her white aunties, after which she met and married her white, wealthy, and openly racist husband, John. He has no idea that Clare passes for white. After the chance encounter, Clare is increasingly drawn to Irene, turning up at her house and becoming more and more involved in Irene’s family. The need for her to connect once again with the black community becomes obsessive. At first wary of Clare, Irene becomes entranced and captivated by her old friend. But as their lives intertwine the intensity of their relationship begins to threaten their marriages, which ultimately exposes the dangers of ‘passing’. 

Cast: Tessa Thompson as Irene and Ruth Negga as Clare are outstanding in the lead roles. The chemistry between them is intense. Thompson is particularly impressive, confident one minute and vulnerable the next. Alexander Skarsgård is terrific as John, the truly detestable husband of Clare, and André Holland, is also very good playing the complexity of Irene’s husband Brian. It’s a sterling cast, and everyone does well. 

Filming and Setting: Filmed in black and white, the cinematography is stylish and impressive. As a means of illustrating the subtleties of emotional and moral shades of grey, its pretty much pitch perfect.

Personal Comments: This is an engrossing film that digs deeply into issues of race, jealousy, belonging, and unhappiness. It is a nuanced and powerful film that portrays characters who are all ‘passing’ in one way or another. Clair passes fluidly across race and class boundaries as she befriends Zu, Irene’s maid, while being an endless fascination for Irene’s husband, and her friend, Hugh Wentworth, a celebrated white novelist – who also happens to be passing as ‘straight’. Both Clare and Irene are ‘passing’ as happily married and satisfied with their lives. There is a simmering tension throughout the film, and at one stage Clare tells us that for her, the price of ‘passing’ has been worth it. We know somehow there is going to be a price paid for all this, and we are on tenterhooks waiting for it.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️  

Categorisation: Police drama 

Availability: TVNZ on demand, SBS, and some Acorn platforms

Plot: Created by Chris Brandon, and directed by Pete Travis, Bloodlands is a four-part British TV series that has been a big hit for the BBC. In the style of Line of Duty, it’s a procedural police drama but this time set in present-day Northern Ireland. There has been a kidnapping and DCI Tom Brannick, along with his right-hand woman DS Niamh McGovern, is investigating. The kidnapper leaves a calling card – a postcard of a H&W crane at the port of Belfast. Brannick immediately links this to a 1998 cold case when four people disappeared in the lead-up to the Good Friday Agreement. He appears shaken by this, but when McGovern queries the meaning of the postcard, he is evasive, and instead takes it to his old comrade, Jackie Twomey, a senior colleague in the Northern Ireland Police. Twomey, fearful that attention to the cold case will unsettle the uneasy peace in Northern Ireland, warns Brannick off. Believing that that the kidnapping is nevertheless inextricably linked to the cold case Brannick and McGovern, with different motivations, are driven to dig deeper. As their investigation proceeds, they uncover secrets from the past that threaten to place further lives in danger.

Filming and Setting: Filmed in and around Belfast, the cinematography in the series evocatively creates a bleak atmosphere that adds to the plot’s menacing dynamic. We get to see some grim aspects of the city of Belfast, and the rugged coastline that plays an important role as the series develops.

Cast: The acting in Bloodlands is consistently good. James Nesbitt puts in a fine lead performance as Tom, and Charlene McKenna is excellent as Niamh. Lorcan Cranitch is terrific as the irascible DCS Twomey. In fact all the actors in this sterling cast bring quality and experience to the drama. Despite this, the series doesn’t fully do justice to the development of the characters. There is a frequent lack of critical backstory that means we don’t get enough information about the characters to appreciate the the complexities of their motivations and actions.   

Personal Comments: Bloodlands is a gripping series that has its audience on tenterhooks throughout. It’s powerfully filmed, and has all the hallmarks of a quality series. Despite this, it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. Overall, there are plot weaknesses, and also inconsistencies in the development of some of the characters. This makes it difficult to understand why some people behave as they do. Another couple of episodes might have made a difference. But if you like a tense and engrossing plot, it’s certainly bingeable.