Saturday, July 14, 2012

Legend of the Seas on Sky

There is, as I have reported on this very blog over the last few months, a festival of delights to look forward to on both the big and small screens in the autumn, period drama-wise. September will herald the return - and hopefully the return to form - of Downton Abbey. Martha Levinson will arrive in the first episode of the third series for her granddaughter Mary's wedding to Matthew, now that his spine has re-aligned, and is set to put the cat among the pigeons as only a brash and blunt American can in a drama by Julian Fellowes. Alongside Shirley MacLaine as Martha, new cast members will include Ed Speelers and Matt Milne as newbie footmen Jimmy and Alfred and Charles Edwards as a suitor to the unlucky-in-love Lady Edith. I predict good things for season three but, just in case Downton continues on its slippery slope, hopes must surely be high over on BBC2 for Tom Stoppard's take on women's suffrage, life in the trenches and the Roaring Twenties with his adaptation of Ford Maddox Ford's Parade's End tetralogy of novels starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall. Meanwhile, at a cinema near you this fall will be many promising literary adaptations including Anna Karenina, Great Expectations, Romeo and Juliet, Les Miserables and Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (more of that anon).

Summer is, alas, never a great time for period drama enthusiasts although a new programme on Sky  pricked my interest last weekend. Their lavish new fantasy adventure Sinbad began last Sunday with a thoroughly entertaining season opener and is set to fit the bill as fun and undemanding escapism for the next twelve weeks. Very much influenced by the BBC's global success story Merlin, it goes back to the beginning with a famous mythological hero, is set in The Past and features veiled figures muttering in alleys about a return to the old ways. We first meet Sinbad the Sailor of Arabian Nights renown as a cheeky chap knocking around Basra sometime in The Past, making mischief and harbouring not a jot of desire to set sail when he unwittingly brings about the death of his sensible older brother, changing the course of his life forever. A gypsy curse is placed on him by his exasperated grandmother that sees him cast out from his carefree existence to drift the seven seas and atone for his misdeeds so he stows away on a ship manned by a motley crew of mysterious and madcap seafarers and his adventures begin.

Featuring more CGI sea monsters and cliches about the Middle East than you can shake a stick at, Sinbad is boosted by an abundance of energy, quirky characters and a charismatic central performance from newcomer Elliot Knight (pictured above) alongside an acclaimed supporting cast that includes Elliot Cowan, Dimitri Leonidas, Naveen Andrews, Orla Brady, Evanna Lynch, Sophie Okonedo and a rare screen performance from Dame Janet Suzman, having a good time as the curse-happy Granny and no doubt supplementing her income from her latest book of theatre criticism, Not Hamlet - Meditations on the Frail Position of Women in Drama, which, although undoubtedly an absorbing read, is hardly, one suspects, troubling Fifty Shades of Grey on the bestseller lists.

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