WORDS BETH CUTTING
Another largely unwelcome lockdown arrived on our already repainted twice doorsteps to remind us of a simpler time. A time we struggle to socialise, a time in which we are a bit bored of cooking, a time in which we want to semi-hibernate but most definitely not under governments unique and confusing orders. So what do we do this time. We are over Zooms, sooooooo done with banana bread. We don’t have our holidays to look forward to. But THANK GOD FOR TELEVISION. I can only imagine how much worse this would have been before the internet, I really say a daily prayer for my Wi-Fi right now. And for the fact that (despite not understanding how production companies are still shooting new shows), new series are hitting our overused screens.
Here are some of the best series that do so much more than offer mild distractions. They are all hard hitting and seek truth, whether real or scripted they will keep you on your slipper covered toes.
BBC Iplayer - Sundays 21:00pm
4 part series
Oscar winner Steve McQueen (12 Years a Slave & Kanye West’s All Day) directs ‘Small Axe’ a series of four films based on true historical events that changed the way flawed systems function. The name ‘Small Axe’ was taken from a Bob Marley song. The BBC describes the series as “Love letters to black resilience and triumph in London’s West Indian community… Vivid stories of hard-won victories in the face of racism.” And I couldn’t put it better myself.
The four films are separate stories with differing characters all seeking to unpick events and bring truth to the surface. The real criminals are obvious amongst the community but disguised in the system through threads of power, entwined with police brutality and unfair treatment.
The Mangrove is 2 hours long but speeds by quickly; and not in a cliffhanging gripped to the edge of our seats way, but because it beautifully serves up situations of bleak confrontation suffered by the innocent local community. You become so intrinsically invested in the characters that you’ll be instantly spewing with disgust at the police officers and are forced to stare right into their dark twisted depths fuelled by confidence from their uniformed power. We are scared to sit and face the reality of the flawed system we live through. But it’s vital we do - so we prevail. We watch through confusion, frustration, empathy and the welcomed glimmers of hope.
I’ve only seen one episode of Small Axe and I already believe it to be a masterpiece of art that serves up timeless lessons. Its raw insight carried me to understand the past, evoke feelings in the present and inspire awareness for the future. The most important things we watch are those that deepen our grip on hard to grasp realities and the people whos struggles we previously couldn’t comprehend as thoughtfully. The essence of how the community fights back is deeply touching, one of the lines in the courtroom sums up the integrity of their resilience “History will take its course, so frequently a brutal one, and we will continue to resist intelligently and reasonably.”
It couldn’t feel more relevant.
The in-your-face seduction of new woman on the block, Elena Alves, rocks the unsteady boat floating through a wealthy paradise of private schools, fundraisers and ‘do-gooders’. Her uninhibited sexual spirit sends tidal waves of uncertainty underneath the prim and proper uptight charitable façade of the characters, who appear nervously intrigued by her presence. Elena is a character of extremes who is either 100% naïve to her effect on people or is 100% aware and thus potentially manipulative. We can’t wait to see how the will the tight-knit, insanely wealthy and ridiculously regimented Mums from the local private school react to her.
However, the seemingly neighbourly shake up takes a quick dark turn which rocks the foundations of home life between Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) and Grace Fraser (Nicole Kidman) whose child attends the same school as Elena’s does. The performances are as gripping as the surprisingly original plot. For once I really don’t know whodunnit. And for once, I do truly want to know. So much so I re-watched every episode as HBO only bring one out a week and I can’t wait for the next.
The Undoing doesn’t shy away from the flaws of wealth and the desperate sense of reputation. Grace’s lawyer says to her at one point (about withholding information) “It’s what rich, entitled people do when threatened. They conceal the ugly truths to protect themselves, their family units, their place in society, their public image. And they think they can get away with it because they’re rich.”
The Undoing is a continuing complex and ironic character assessment. A doctor saving children from cancer could potentially be bad. A successful couples therapist can have her marriage fall apart. It’s a lesson in the good and bad, how they interlace and I can’t wait to see how it untangles.
WE ARE WHO WE ARE
Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name) directs ‘We Are Who We Are’ which is so much more than a teenage drama series based on a U.S. Army base in Italy. The uniqueness of the situation may mean you’re fooled into thinking most of the issues derive from the "scenarios" teenagers experience when going to a military camp. But what is at the core of this season is in fact the opposite. It’s the humanity - it’s how characters struggle to find themselves, to understand who they are, to understand love and how to acceptably conduct it whilst remaining true to themselves.
The teenagers clambering drunkenly and clumsily through adolescence get a lot of air time but 'We Are Who We Are' just as frequently touches on the vulnerabilities and simultaneous confusion of adulthood. It’s a reminder to us that whilst being moody teenagers and expecting our parents to have the answers to everything - most of the they don’t and could be on parallel journeys to our own.
There are a lot of very uncomfortable interactions that explore how the characters display love and affection, some are painted as intimate and some as clumsy, some as both. We Are Who We Are doesn’t dress up love and family interaction in a cutesy way but not in an overly dramatic way either. There’s an undeniable difficult strength to a lot of the main characters and their flawed actions often leave us feeling uneasy and captivated in equal measure.
That combination of feelings is one of my favourite emotions to unpick when watching cleverly presented scenes because we have to decide for ourselves why we feel that way. Do we feel uncomfortable because of social constructs we have subconsciously adhered to? The series often leaves you thinking about our own interactions.
THE CROWN (SERIES 4)
Lately there has been an influx of Diana revelations. And no matter how seemingly ridiculous any of the claims are I lap them up like a kitten sipping catnip laced cream. I simply, like most of the country, can’t get enough. Diana didn't wear hats to hospitals so she could hug children? I’ll take it. Diana pushed her stepmother down the stairs? Sure - I’ll indulge in a heated debate on the matter. Everything said about Diana is a statement - one of either integrity, paranoia, the idiosyncrasies of class or at the essence of fragility. I don’t think anyone else in the public eye has made so many well-dressed humanitarian statements. I can’t think of any other celebrities who would refuse royal duties from Britain’s most intimating in-laws to help charities diffuse landmines. The importance of her embellished moral compass is what obsessed a nation.
In the Crown Emma Corrin plays Diana - her voice tweaked to softly spoken perfection. It is as close to the real thing I’ve heard be re-enacted which makes it as haunting as it does believable. Her innocence is often untrusted as it can often be with women who are confident with their naivety.
As I’ve already consumed every documentary about Diana (and carefully considered the conspiracies) The Crown season 4 is the next welcomed portal delving into a life most fascinatingly and tragically explored life in the relentless spotlight. A spotlight that exposed vulnerability, undeniable youth, extortionate fame, and the perfect cycling shorts.