Monthly Archives: August 2012

Review: Hunderby


© Baby Cow Productions / Sky Atlantic

When a shipwrecked stowaway with a haunted past arrives in the small coastal town of Hunderby, the lives of its inhabitants are set to be changed forever in Julia Davis’ first full length series by her own hand since Nighty Night.

Based on Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, the costume drama also has a whiff of Austin and Bronte about it – with dashing heroes, widowed pastors and a matriarchal housekeeper.

Yet, as with Nighty Night, Davis’ blackly comic humour runs through Hunderby’s veins, at times threatening to topple it into Gormenghast levels of absurdity, yet always just about reigning in proceedings thanks to its stellar ensemble cast.

Former IT Crowd and Being Human guest star Alexandra Roach’s gentle Helene is a troubled soul, plagued by memories of a haunted past, only tantalisingly glimpsed in the first episode.

Washing up on Hunderby during the lengthy prologue (narrated by our very own Julian Barratt), she is soon wed to puritanical man of the cloth, Edmund, brilliantly portrayed by Alex MacQueen (Four Lions, The Wrong Door, The Thick Of It).

As Edmund MacQueen is every bit the stuffy, put-upon gentlemen, who mourns for his dead wife, enjoys breasts, and yearns for his bubbly milk. By contrast, TVO regular Rufus Jones is every bit the polar opposite as Doctor Fogherty. A dashing man, made entirely of bravado, horsemanship, artistic skills and a good way with avian pets, he nevertheless longs wistfully for Helene the moment he sees her.

© Baby Cow Productions / Sky Atlantic

Somewhat less fond of the mysterious new arrival is housekeeper Dorothy – played by Davis with her usual unrivalled comic mastery. Seemingly stern but kind-hearted to all but Helene, Dorothy is hiding some terrible secrets, and sets about menacing the poor girl thanks to an unhealthy obsession with Edmund’s dead wife.

Throw in an almost unrecognisable Alexander Armstrong with a pudding basin haircut and a Scottish lilt as fellow pastor Brother Joseph, How Not To Live Your Life star Daniel Lawrence Taylor as a fellow (equally mysterious) shipwreck survivor, Geoff, and a brief glimpse of Kevin Eldon in a part which forms the core of Helene’s mystery, and the end result is an impressive cast having an absolute hoot. There’s even a cheeky appearance from another set of TVO faces – Antony Elvin, Will Summers and Michael Tyack as folk trio Princes In The Tower, though we suspect it didn’t take much costumery to make them look the part!

As with Davis previous work, the humour here is more subtle than many will be expecting, with difficult situations and uncomfortable surroundings opening up the possibilities for the type of silly wordings and oddball statements of which she is so fond.

© Baby Cow Productions / Sky Atlantic

Perhaps to be expected from a protégé of Coogan & Morris, the parody is perhaps almost too good – this is a beautifully shot costume drama, with muted colours and stuffy locations instilling a continued sense of unease. Credit must be given to director of photography Ian Moss (a costume drama veteran), and Nighty Night director Tony Dow, who returns here, for making the show look so beautiful to complement Davis wickedly sumptuous script.

All of the cast are pitch-perfect in the roles, and whilst the action, and therefore the comedy, is a little slow to get off the ground initially, the lengthy run time allows the first episode breathing space, where it can establish its surroundings then race towards the finish line and its inevitable cliffhanger.

With six more episodes to go, including more of Kevin Eldon and a guest role for Barunka O’Shaughnessy, it’s clear that Hunderby has Onion connections aplenty. Thankfully, what it also has is charm, beauty, and above all else, spiky wit and typically dark comedy from Julia’s twisted pen. It may be slow to get going, but stick with it, because this may be another classic in the making.


Review: Sightseers


© Big Talk Pictures

With The Sightseers currently wowing the crowds at film festivals worldwide, ahead of its UK release on November 30th, we at The Velvet Onion are amongst the lucky few who have seen the film.

Earlier this month, we attended a sneak peek at Ben Wheatley‘s third feature, written by and starring Alice Lowe and Steve Oram, and featuring Richard Glover, Jonathan Aris, Eileen Davis, Monica Dolan, Richard Lumsden and Rachel Austin, and featuring cameo appearances by Tony WayTom Meeten and Antony Elvin.

Naturally, we feel it’s far too early to tell you in depth what we think of the picture, and the nuances of its plotting.  With some months to go before its release, Wheatley and the team at Big Talk Pictures are keeping up an air of mystery around the film, with only a brief preview clip emerging thanks to the demands of the Cannes Film Festival’s promotional push earlier this year.  Far be it from us to go against their wishes – part of the joy of this film is not quite knowing what’s coming next until it becomes inevitable.  You’ll just have to go and see it to find out!

What we can tell you, without spoilering whatsoever, is that we went into the film with some trepidation.  We’d loved Wheatley’s previous features, and obviously have great affection for the work of Lowe & Oram – but could the stakes be too high?  Could they have misfired spectacularly?

The good news is, in a nutshell, The Sightseers is one of the boldest, most inventive comedies you’ll see on screen this year, and probably all of next year as well.  At times bleak, at other times brutally grisly, the blackly comic humour that is struck right through the film like Blackpool rock wins out, and the end result is utterly hilarious.

© Big Talk Pictures

Steve and Alice, as nerdy caravanners Chris & Tina, are an absolute joy – lighting up the screen with their rocky romance, awkward reactions and psychopathic tendencies. Glover’s gentle turn as a fellow rambler, Martin, is subtly pitched and acts as a perfect springboard for the couple to react to. In fact, there’s not a single duff performance across the entire film, which looks beautiful, is scored to perfection, and ends at just the right time – with just the right ambiguity as to its outcome.

The time will come, nearer to its release, when we can sing its praises in more depth, but for now, let us just assure those of you attending the various preview screenings, you’re in for a treat.

Acceptance, Not Tolerance: The Legacy Of Sophie Lancaster

This article was originally published at MEDIA BLASPHEMY in August 2012.

On a warm summer’s night in a rural village in Lancashire, a young couple were savagely beaten simply because of the way they looked.  When Robert Maltby, then 21, was attacked in Bacup’s Stubbylee Park, his girlfriend, 20-year-old Sophie Lancaster tried in vain to protect him.

Whilst Rob would recover, albeit with long-term side effects, Sophie died in hospital on August 24th2007: thirteen days after the attack which had sent shockwaves throughout the media. International news reports and a tidal wave of grief followed, which brought to the fore a previously ignored form of hate crime.

What emerged in the aftermath was that the couple, long part of the local goth scene, had been targeted because of their outward appearance alone. Maltby’s brightly dyed hair, Lancaster’s dreadlocks and their combined piercings had attracted attention from a gang of youths who later boasted to witnesses: “There’s two moshers nearly dead up Bacup park. You wanna see them. They’re a right mess.”

Five years on, the effect of Sophie’s death is still being felt throughout the alternative community and, crucially, in government – with a revised action plan for hate crime legislation produced in March 2012 citing the work of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation as a major contributor to the new strategy.

Set up as a registered charity in 2009 by Lancaster’s mother, Sylvia, the foundation’s cottage-industry approach to charitable campaigning – it operates with just three full time staff members: Lancaster, Kate Conboy-Greenwood and Sophie’s childhood friend Stacey Elder – aims to challenge attitudes which led to Sophie’s murder. Read the rest of this entry