Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A Return from the Shadows

Guy Ritchie is currently in post production on the sequel to his 2009 box-office smash hit Sherlock Holmes. Daft as a brush but rollicking good fun nonetheless, the movie garnered much critical acclaim for Robert Downey Jr's robust comic turn as Arthur Conan Doyle's iconic detective. Somewhat of an action hero in Ritchie and Downey Jr's hand, this was indeed Holmes as he had never been seen before. Downey Jr was joined by Jude Law as his beleaguered sidekick Dr Watson and both actors will reprise their roles in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows alongside The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo herself, Swedish actress Noomi Rapace as mysterious medium Sim. Aren't they always mysterious, these movie mediums? The trio (pictured above) face off against Holmes's great nemesis, only alluded to in the first film, Moriarty, played by Jared Harris. Another new face, Stephen Fry as Holmes's sharp-as-a-tack big brother Mycroft, will feature alongside returnees Kelly Reilly as Watson's fiancee Mary, Eddie Marsan as Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard, Geraldine James as landlady Mrs Hudson and Rachel McAdams as femme fatale Irene Adler.

Judging by the trailer, A Game of Shadows will no doubt be another action-packed romp. The shenanigans on a train look particularly intriguing. The first film just about succeeded but one hopes that story is not sacrificed on the altar of CGI spectacle when the sequel opens in cinemas around the world just before Christmas. Meanwhile, Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat's modern-day re-imagining of Sherlock Holmes, the BBC's Sherlock, will follow hard on its heels in the New Year with adaptations of three of most famous Sherlock stories, The Reichenbach Fall, The Hound of the Baskervilles and A Scandal in Bohemia. The ingenious series, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes, Martin Freeman as Dr Watson, Rupert Graves as Inspector Lestrade, Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, Gatiss as Mycroft, Andrew Scott as Moriarty and Lara Pulver as Irene Adler, is in many ways closer to the spirit of the original creation than the Hollywood version, despite the latter's lavish Victorian sets.

Lavish Victorian sets are currently under construction by the BBC for their recently-announced eight-part drama series Ripper Street. Taking place in 1889, the intense drama will examine life in Whitechapel in the aftermath of the horrific crimes committed by one Jack the Ripper. Written by Richard Warlow of Waking the Dead fame, Ripper Street explores the lives of characters trying to recover from the Ripper's legacy, from crimes that have not only irretrievably altered their lives, but the very fabric of their city. At the drama's heart, detectives from the notorious H Division - the police precinct from hell, by all accounts - try to bring a little light into the dark world they inhabit. One suspects that it will not occupy the time slot vacated by the recently-axed Lark Rise to Candleford when it hits our screens next year. Just a hunch!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Heaven Knows Anne's Miserable Now

In the above still are Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway singing to each other as David Frost and Richard Nixon in a Frost/Nixon sketch at the 2009 Academy Awards. It seems that Jackman and Hathaway will soon be singing together again but in a much less light-hearted manner in the long-awaited movie adaptation of Boubil and Schonberg's musical mega-hit Les Miserables, based on the classic French novel by Victor Hugo. It was this week confirmed that Hathaway has signed on to appear as down-on-her-luck factory worker Fantine alongside Jackman as one-time convict, now respectable factory owner and mayor Jean Valjean who takes pity of her and poignantly promises her on her deathbed to rescue her daughter from the cruel Thernadiers and care for her as though she was his own. He is thwarted at every turn, however, by obsessive police chief Javert who refuses to forget the past and accept that Valjean is a reformed character. Both Javert and Valjean also become embroiled in political instability in nineteenth-century Paris as a group of idealistic students mount barricades and fight for the emancipation of the Proletariat, all the while singing some lovely songs it has to be said.

After much speculation, Russell Crowe has been announced as Jackman's dogged pursuer. The only other confirmed cast member at this stage is Helena Bonham Carter as the thoroughly unpleasant Madame Thernadier. Bonham Carter's Alice in Wonderland co-star Hathaway will sing the iconic I Dreamed a Dream in the movie to be directed by The King Speech's Tom Hooper. Theatre impresario Cameron Mackintosh will produce the film version of the musical that he first staged twenty-six years ago to a critical thrashing. It subsequently transpired that misery loves company and it has been running in London and in various locations around the globe ever since. The truth is, however, that other long-delayed movie versions of musical classics such as Evita and The Phantom of the Opera have underperformed significantly. Hooper, based on the evidence of The King's Speech, seems a good choice of director to me as any adaptation of Les Miserables will have to successfully intertwine the epic moments of public outrage and defiance with the more intimate moments of personal heartbreak and sacrifice. We can all hear the people sing and judge for ourselves when Les Miserables is released in cinemas on 7th December 2012.

Charles Dickens: A Comedy Roast

Plans to celebrate the bi-centenary of Charles Dickens's birth next year continue apace at the British Broadcasting Corporation. Following announcements of new adaptations of Great Expectations and The Mystery of Edwin Drood, BBC Radio 4's acclaimed comedy series inspired by the many novels of the great man, Bleak Expectations, is to be adapted for television this Christmas as The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff by writer Mark Evans. It seems to me very fitting that such a project be greenlit at a time when we reflect on Dickens's vast contribution as he himself was an merciless satirist of various aspects of Victorian life and one would like to think that he would be able to appreciate a well-made parody of the various tropes and conventions of his own oevure. The series, beginning with a Christmas special and continuing with three further episodes in the New Year, will no doubt feature youthful indiscretions, unscrupulous individuals with flamboyant names, selfish parents, patient wives and many a reversal of fortune.

The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff tells the tale of one Jedrington Secret-Past, the up-standing family man and owner of The Old Shop of Stuff, Victorian London's most successful purveyor of miscellaneous odd things. We will follow Jedrington's various misadventures including being incarcerated by the evil lawyer Malifax Skulkingworm in London's infamous prison The Skint on the eve of Christmas until he can repay a mysterious and vast debt, teaming up with seemingly charming business partner Harmswell Grimstone and discovering that his wife Conceptiva has a secret past that is even darker than his own. Starring Robert Webb as Jedrington, Katherine Parkinson as Conceptiva, Stephen Fry as Skulkingworm and Tim McInnerney as Grimstone, the impressive ensemble cast also includes David Mitchell (pictured above with comedy partner Webb in a Poirot skit from their sketch series), Sarah Hadland, Celia Imrie, Pauline McLynn, Kevin Eldon, Derek Griffiths and Johnny Vegas. What larks, eh?