Ted Lasso

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ 

Categorisation: Comedy

Availability: Apple TV 

Storyline: Rebecca Welton is the new owner of a London soccer team, the struggling AFC Richmond. She employs Ted Lasso, an American football coach from Kansas, to change the team’s fortunes. While Ted has had some success with coaching American football, he knows nothing at all about soccer. This becomes blatantly obvious in his first media interview which would be any media coach’s nightmare. The journalists shred him, ‘wanker’ becomes the new chant for the underwhelmed fan base, and his team just hopes he will leave soon. Ted is nevertheless unfailingly optimistic that things will come right. Rebecca agrees, although soon it is clear that she has an alternative motive for employing Ted as the new manager of the lacklustre team. 

Film-craft: This fine production takes us from the seedy environment of the locker room to the glamorous world of premier league sport. But in the end it’s the script that really sings in this series. Funny and clever, it democratises humour across a terrific set of characters. Ted’s performance spans a comical spectrum – laugh-out-loud slapstick one minute, then subtle humour as he challenges Rebecca’s HR practices or amuses us with his therapeutic insights. The script makes everyone else shine too. Sharp-witted Rebecca’s words cut like a knife as she mercilessly bullies her underlings (except, of course, the seemingly impervious Ted). Roy Kent, the ageing team captain, switches from anger to bafflement brilliantly. Keeley Jones’s sexual antics and innate sense of fun is a delight. And Rupert, Rebecca’s vile and manipulating ex-husband, gets some really nasty lines that compel us toward embracing  revenge. All in all, great writing.    

Cast: The whole cast is impressive in this series – as Ted Lasso would say, it’s the whole team that wins. But I will try to single out one or two. Comedian and Ted Lasso coscript-writer Jason Sudeikis is really wonderful playing the irrepressible Ted Lasso. Despite his positivism, you simply can’t help but like him. Brendan Hunt, also co-writer, is equally impressive as the intimidating and angry Roy Kent. My favourite though is the fabulous Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca. In a nuanced and complex portrayal, she brings exactly the right amount of attitude to the show, and  has a great sense of (exasperated) comic timing. Her scenes with Keeley Jones, played engagingly by Juno Temple, are some of the best. Nick Mohammed as Nathan is lovely as the team’s self-effacing kit-man, and Jeremy Swift is a delight as Higgins, Rebecca’s browbeaten assistant. Collectively, Ted Lasso brings together one of the best comic teams I have seen. 

Personal Comments: I am very late in coming to this show. Many people told me that I must see it, but frankly I could think of nothing worse than sitting through a series about football team coaching. Astonishingly, I find it to be an absolute delight. Ted Lasso, the character, is kind in the most appealing way. The production is very good. I’m confident it will dismantle any resistance you may have, leaving you open to its charms, along with its deeper messages of hope and resilience. I realise now that Ted Lasso is not primarily a show about sport. It’s a funny take on important conversations that could be had across all walks of life. I see there is a second series, and if they can keep up the standard of the first I’ll be right there bingeing my way through it.  


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: In theatres

Plot: Bhutanese writer and director, Pawo Choyning Dorji brings this gentle drama to the screen. It tells the story of a young Bhutanese man, Ugyen, who lives with his grandmother in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Ugyen is a school teacher, a government job that is highly valued. But despite his ‘Gross National Happiness’ teeshirt, he’s not exactly happy with his life. Unenthused by his teaching, he wants to travel to Australia where he imagines a blossoming singing career will bring him fame and fortune. His grandmother is not happy about all this, nor is his advisor who tells him that she’s never met anyone so unmotivated. She reminds him he still has a year of his contract to run, and then promptly despatches him to the northern village of Lunana where they need a locum teacher. With a population of around fifty, including nine children of school age, Lunana is extremely remote, even by Bhutanese standards. They have few resources, no internet, barely any electricity, and use yak dung to light their fires. The community try their best to persuade him to stay, but Lunana the last place Ugyen wants to be. 

Cast: Sherab Dorji is excellent playing Ugyen. He brings exactly the right amount of attitude to the role, respectful, but with an edge of arrogance. But it’s the children who steal the show in this film, and in particular, Pem Zam, the class captain. She is one of a number of non-professional actors the film engages from the village, and they are all terrific. Pem Zam’s lively performance exposes a fresh raw talent that I imagine will assure her future in Bhutan’s film industry – if she wants it. Kunzang Wangdi is wonderfully serene as Asha, the head of the village, and Kelden Lhamo Gurung is delightful as Saldon, a singing yak herder from Lunana. 

Filming and Setting: Nothing is rushed in this film. Ugyen’s grandmother spins a prayer wheel as she watches TV. Saldon sings traditional songs from the hilltop, her voice drifting across the village below. Ugyen and his guides walk for three days to get to Lunana, the magnificent snow-covered Himalayan mountains provide a stunning backdrop, reminding us of the smallness of human concerns. There is an unhurried calmness, a respectful attention to ritual that captures perfectly the centuries-old spiritual customs that underpin Bhutanese life, all filmed beautifully by experienced cinematographer, Jigme Tenzing. It’s hard to imagine any other approach to filmmaking from a country that prioritises happiness over neoliberal market-driven preferences in its economic and social development.

Personal Comments: Bhutan is not particularly well known for its filmmaking, but this year Lunana was a surprise contender for Best Foreign Feature Film at the Oscar’s. Pipped at the post by the Japanese film Drive My Car, Lunana is nevertheless a charming, and stunningly beautiful gem of a film. I’m a bit disappointed Lunana didn’t win the Oscar. They would have been ecstatic…in a very unhurried, Bhutanese sort of way.

Borgen: The Power and the Glory

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Political drama

Availability: Netflix 

Storyline: It’s almost a decade since Adam Price created the fictional character of Brigitte Nyborg, Denmark’s first female Prime Minister, in the highly acclaimed Danish series Borgen. If audience reviews are anything to go by, series 1, 2 and 3 thrilled people across the globe. As a series it was complete, perfectly formed, and nobody expected a sequel. But now, ten years later, Nyborg is back and still in government, although no longer the leader. Now foreign minister, she’s gone down a rung, and she’s right in the thick of it when oil is found in Greenland. The discovery causes excitement in Denmark, and also in the US, Russia and China – and of course, in Greenland where the predicted massive wealth that will be derived from the oil is expected to fund its independence from Denmark. Nyborg, a conservationist whose party has played a key role in the Coalition’s zero emission policy, is against exploiting the resource. But things have changed since Nyborg was prime minister. Politics are even more ruthless than they used to be. There are also lots of women in power now, and there is not much solidarity in the sisterhood these days. The idealism Nyborg had ten years ago is challenged by the rat-race politics that now consume her, both as victim and perpetrator. While the politics of exploiting oil in a climate-concerned world provides the backdrop for the series the machinations of political life, including all their relational implications, remain front and centre of the action.

Filming and Setting: Perhaps not surprisingly, the filming of Greenland is extraordinary. The icy landscapes are breathtaking, sharply revealing the fragile beauty that climate change activists seek to protect. At the same time the series exposes conflicting interests, particularly relating to indigenous concerns, and it isn’t squeamish in what it chooses to film. The first scenes of whale flensing, for example, are difficult to watch. I felt a sense of relief when we returned to the glorious Christiansborg Palace in Denmark, the contradictory epicentre of Danish political life that featured so prominently in the earlier series.

Cast: The cast is exceptional, many returning from the earlier series. The brilliant Sidse Babett Knudsen as Nyborg, as per expectation, is outstanding. She is wonderfully expressive – harried and tired one minute, flashing with vibrancy the next. She’s in the menopausal decade and it’s easy to empathise as she’s doing her best to manage its effects while controlling the dynamics of international politics. Birgitte Horta Sørensen is terrific as the reporter Katrina Fønsmark who, in series 4 is running the Danish news station, badly it turns out. It’s a parallel to Nyborg’s political life but with different outcomes. New characters also add positively to the series. In particular, Mikkel Følsgaard is an actor to watch (A Royal Affair, The Chestnut Man). He is impressive as Asger Holm Kirkegaard, Nyborg’s Arctic Ambassador, who invariably finds himself between a rock and a hard place personally and professionally.

Personal Comments: The oil story is fascinating in this series – Donald Trump was clearly on to something when the leader of the free world tried to buy Greenland from the Danes. Overall, Borgen’s smart screenplay, impressive cast and fabulous cinematography will not disappoint.  Apart from the final episode (something I will leave you to discover), the series is clever and complex, illustrating perfectly the ways in which corruption permeates political pathways to power, leaving little glory in its wake. It makes me want to pull out our old DVDs of series 1-3, and start all over again.

Mothering Sunday

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Drama

Availability: In theatres

Plot: French director Eva Husson has created an ambitious film adaptation of Graham Swift’s splendid novella, Mothering Sunday. The film tells the story of a maid, Jane Fairchild, who is in the service of an English couple, Mr and Mrs Niven. Jane was raised in an orphanage, entered domestic service as a young teenager, and in later life became a successful writer of fiction. The Nivens’ are an aristocratic couple who have lost their two sons in the First World War. The Sheringhams’, another upper-class family, have also lost two of their three sons in the war. Their shared grief with the Nivens’ is an important theme of the film. Paul, now the Sheringham’s only living son, feels a weight of family expectation and responsibility. He resigns himself to an arranged marriage of sorts – Emma, his betrothed, had been engaged to one of the Niven sons, further reinforcing an alliance between the two families. Paul is nevertheless in an illicit and long-standing intimate relationship with Jane. On Mothering Sunday 1924, the three families meet for a picnic lunch to celebrate Paul and Emma’s forthcoming marriage, and much of the film’s action takes place on this single day. Each year workers in service are granted a day off on Mothering Sunday, a day they can honour their mothers by visiting them. Having no mother, or any other family, Jane is free to do whatever she wishes. Unexpectedly, Paul invites her to his family home. As they enjoy their morning together they both sense it will be their last sexual encounter. Themes of grief, family responsibility, and class difference permeate the film, and also influence Jane’s emerging writing career.

Filming and Setting: Mothering Sunday is filmed beautifully. Languidly explicit in its expression of sexuality, it captures perfectly the passionate and exquisitely sensual relationship between Jane and Paul. Stunning cinematography features the glorious stately homes, and the lovely Buckinghamshire countryside. Words are particularly important in the film. Spoken and written, they are used effectively to convey the complexities of their relationship, and also the writer’s unfolding craft. 

Cast: Odessa Young, an Australian actor now living in the US, is outstanding as Jane Fairchild. She brings expressive and ethereal elements that are perfect for the role. Josh O’Connor is also excellent, if you are able to detach him from his impressionable portrayal of Prince Charles in The Crown. Unsurprisingly both Colin Firth and Olivia Coleman are impressive playing Mr and Mrs Niven, although clearly Firth has a more substantial role in the screenplay. Patsy Ferran is delightful as Milly, the Niven’s cook and friend to Jane. Veteran actor Glenda Jackson plays a cameo role as Jane, the eighty-year-old writer.  

Personal Comments: Like the book, Mothering Sunday moves across timeframes, exploring Jane’s past, present, and future life. This works well in the book, but not so well in the film. As a consequence there remains a sense of uncertainty about the film’s focus, whether it is primarily a portrayal about grief and loss, or whether its intent is to use these themes, along with others, to illuminate Jane’s development as an author. This may be a subtle difference, but it’s one that the film struggles with. In casting Coleman and Firth, both exceptional actors, the film has to give them prominent roles – something weighty to work with. In response they have created a haunting portrayal of parental grief in the face of unimaginable loss. But in doing so, the film is skewed toward this focus, making the switch back and forth to ‘Jane the writer’ disjointed. Casting Glenda Jackson in the role of Jane as an older woman is also distracting. Having read the book, I can see how difficult it must have been to bring its complex structure to the screen. While Mothering Sunday is a fine film, and there are significant elements that are brilliant in their execution, I am left wondering whether casting lesser-known actors in the secondary roles might have given Husson more freedom to explore the successful rise of a female writer through the lens of her experiences.


Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Spy drama

Availability: Acorn

Storyline: The IPCRESS File is a six-part ITV series inspired by Len Deighton’s 1962 spy thriller of the same name. Harry Palmer, who was named and made famous by Michael Caine in the classic 1960s film adaptation of the book, sells contraband over the Iron Curtain. He gets caught, and is thrown into a military jail. Concurrently Professor Dawson, a British atomic scientist, is abducted in Berlin, whereupon Major Dalby, head of the secretive British intelligence service, decides that Harry is just the bloke they need to find him. The stakes are high. Dawson is essential to the development of Britain’s nuclear weaponry. Working-class Harry is smart, street savvy, and ultimately dispensable. Jean Courtney, an experienced British agent, has the job of preparing Harry for what turns out to be a highly perilous Cold War mission. Soon Harry finds himself alone, where nothing is as it seems and there is no one to trust.    

Filming and Setting: Award winning director, James Watkins saturatesThe IPCRESS File in retro style. The interiors, the vintage cars, and Jean’s clothes are magnificent. The series is worth watching for these visuals alone. Filmed on location in Liverpool and Croatia, the series effectively transforms both places into 1960s London and Berlin respectively. It is impressively done.

Cast: The cast is also impressive. Joe Cole stars as Harry. Initially he comes across as too baby-faced for the role, but as the series unfolds he really comes into his own as he portrays a character who is brave and funny, frightened and tortured. Lucy Boynton is spectacular as Jean. Cool, calm and brutally competent, she plays the sophisticated upper class spy to perfection. So perfect in fact, she ends up stealing every scene. Tom Hollander is also terrific as Major Dalby. He has some of the best sardonic lines in the series, and plays them with an equally cool brilliance. Everyone else does well too. Watch out for Anastasia Hille as Alice, one of Dalby’s more experienced agents. She keeps a loaded revolver in her desk drawer which enables her to hold things together when the organisational wheels start falling off. 

Personal Comments: The IPCRESS File is entertainingly stylish and a damned good retro romp. At the same time it manages to tackle some of Britain’s deeply imbedded class politics. Bondesque, but with a touch more realism, it is amusing without being too silly. It will appeal if you like a good tongue-in-cheek spy story that is also a lot of fun.