Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Hard Sun - Damp squib - BBC Drama in a bit of a mess

By far the best output from BBC Drama at the moment are the trailers. I was completely lured in by the promise of a pre-apocalyptic crime thriller, Hard Sun, but it has been possibly the worst drama series I've seen on the BBC for years, even worse than the remake of Survivors and right down there with last year's execrable Undercover. Badly acted, preposterously scripted, overly lingering on London landmarks and needlessly violent. In fact needless sums it all up rather well. It's Spooks meets Line of Duty with none of the cleverness of either.

Similarly McMafia looked immense in the trailer, it was even quite promising throughout the first two episodes, but has sadly descended into something of a predictable rhythm as we hit the half way mark. The best things about it are its internationalism - the Russian actors, no expense spared on the global locations and the source material of Misha Glenny's factual analysis of globalised crime. The weaknesses are what they do with it all when they've got there. Comparisons have been made with last year's sizzling Le Carre adaptation The Night Manager which kept the tension high throughout with a clarity of motive and that raw sensation of lust and attraction. When you find yourself wondering which is the most dynamic female British character - choosing the compliance manager in a hedge fund, and not the ethical fund manager girlfriend - you know there's a problem somewhere.

Other TV critics have pointed out the grand scale of these projects, and the projection of international place, is both a burden and an asset (Private Eye's excellent TV Eye, notably). I find myself worrying now that Sky Atlantic's forthcoming Britannia, starring David Morrissey, will be an attempt at replicating Taboo, but in Roman Britain. Drama by numbers, it seems that if  something works once, then the formula gets used to death, to the point where the one thing that has always made BBC Drama good is no longer present; originality and the capacity to surprise.

Friday, January 05, 2018

On the Brink - Simon Hughes' North West football journey reviewed

Over the course of the last five turbulent football seasons it's been at times a humbling and humiliating experience as a Blackburn Rovers supporter. True, in any sporting situation there are always winners and losers, that fortunes of clubs ebb and flow.  But for some fans the pain and disappointment is made worse by their clubs falling into the hands of criminals and greedy charlatans.

I like to think I've always been able to spare a thought for the plight of other fans and how the distribution of money is a huge missed opportunity to create something amazing and of a real common good. In the 1980s I was active in the Football Supporter's Association which was moderately successful in giving fans a voice they didn't have back then.

Simon Hughes takes us on a journey around the North West from Carlisle to Manchester and many points in between. He speaks to owners, players, managers, of clubs from the heights of the Premier League to little Droylsden and Barrow and including insights into real grass roots football (which isn't the same as the Academy system, contrary to what Sir Trevor Brooking thinks). I really appreciated the richness of each and every story, wincing at times at what people put themselves through. But I was also slightly jealous that in my own time as a business journalist, covering this exact same patch, I didn't use my access and contacts to do something similar; but grateful nevertheless that Simon has used his position at the Independent to do this.

On balance I'm pleased that the most head-spinning, disgraceful act of larceny in recent North West football history isn't included. I refer of course to the plundering of Blackburn Rovers by Jerome Anderson and Kentaro and the "ownership" of the Venky's. I say I'm pleased because it made me realise there is more to my love of football than the pre-occupations of my own team in the third division. Yes, I have every right to feel hurt and wounded, but so too do supporters of pretty much every club featured in this book. It also raises some fundamental questions of society and how we raise children to play the game. The chapter on Fletcher Moss Juniors in Manchester is particularly poignant.

I genuinely worry too about how one-eyed so much coverage of football has become. I don't have the time or the inclination to pore over the details of the opposition like I used to, I enjoy listening to Jim Bentley and John Coleman on BBC Radio Lancashire Sport, but I only really get emotionally triggered by the interview with the Rovers boss.

It can be an uncomfortable read at times, but it's ultimately optimistic, because it captures a passion so well and I'd heartily recommend this work of real dedication.

Available from DeCoubertin Books.