By Anne Brodie
Binge-watch Alfred Hitchcock’s masterful films to raise your game. Known as the horror meister due to the publicity campaign around Psycho, his work is so much more than that.
Over fifty years, Hitchcock created gems in diverse genres, comedy, thrillers, romance, and character studies, in unexpected and interesting milieus. Certainly, suspense is a common factor, but he operates in a more nuanced and psychologically realistic than that bit of Oedipal fifties’ shlock.
Start with Hitchcock’s silent films; they’re strong and follow his boundless artistry through to North by Northwest one of the most elegant films ever made.
Hitch’ TV work s largely comic and satirical, a showcase for his lighter side.
We are in strange days, my friends and sometimes, fictional darkness helps drive out the dark. Here we’ll look at murder, betrayal, madness and cruelty balanced with empathy, intelligence and knowledge of the human character and condition in these excellent TV series.
Scandinavia and Britain are the leading sources of topflight, innovative mysteries set in the genre of police procedurals. They also happen to be beautifully cinematic. Here are some of the best. Let’s look at Britain this week.
Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn as DCI Vera Stanhope, now in its tenth series, stands head and shoulders above the rest. Stanhope’s a crusty, overweight and acid-tongued alcoholic who runs a police department in the general area of Newcastle upon Tyne, in Northumberland UK. Her staff knows that when an idea hits her, its time to grab your hat and run after her, she’s always well in front. Not fearful of loudly cussing out her staffers she is also capable of great compassion, a fully realised character with superior instincts. Check out the theme music and gorgeous rural settings, or just discover her for yourself on Acorn TV, BritBox, PBS, Hoopla and other platforms.
Jed Mercurio’s gripping Line of Duty takes a different approach to police series. It’s set in Birmingham’s AC-12, a police anti-corruption unit led by Superintendent Ted Hastings (Adrian Dunbar). He and core cast members Martin Compston and Vicky McClure investigate crimes and deal with interoffice politics and each season brings in a new focal character. In S2, copper Keeley Hawes is roughed up by a group of officers in the station, an event that reverberates through the rest of the series. Thandie Newton is sensational in S4; does lands a serial killer but suffers consequences on the job. Start from the beginning on Acorn TV and Amazon Prime Video.
The dramedy series Scott and Bailey is about two besties, Manchester police, played by Suranne Jones and Lesley Sharp, the former a lonely, single girl who likes to hoist a few and makes mistakes. The latter is sensible, a mother and wife who protects her friend from reality and puts her back together against after disastrous cases, disciplines and breakups. They are great at the job, and stronger together and they always get their man. Netflix.
The original British title for the 10-season series MI-5 is Spooks, a colloquial name for spies, so you’ll be able to find it under either listing. Set in The Grid inside a fictitious London Intelligence office, it follows the top-level activities of the government’s secret services and stars among others Nicola Walker, Richard Armitage, Matthew Macfadyen, Keeley Hawes, David Oyelowo, Jenny Agutter, and Peter Firth with a wealth of seasonal additions.
Kit Harrington stars in the movie which completed the TV series. It would be folly to describe the intricate plotting over the years but it is a superior, intense series worth starting from day one, shot on Super 16 film! BBC Canada and Netflix.
Two iterations of another gripping British intelligence movies and series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. An all-star cast leads the 1979 movie with Alec Guinness, Michael Jayston and Anthony Bate, focussing on the Cold War and Soviet threat.
And the 2011 miniseries, led by Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy and Benedict Cumberbatch covers the Middle East, America and Africa.
Watch at Home! New releases Birds of Prey, Onward, Bloodshot, Doolittle, The Gentlemen, The Way Back are available from Cineplex from $5 to rent and from $27 to buy.
The documentary series Tiger King on Netflix has taken off in a big way on social media, but I am avoiding it because I don’t think people should own wild animals. A man and a bear lived near me growing up and the bear killed his girlfriend.
BritBox has just released the fun new international detective series Mallorca Files in which two hotties Elen Rhys and Julian Looman play British and German investigators thrown together to fight corruption on the sun-drenched Spanish island. Detectives Miranda Blake and Max Winter are chalk and cheese with a touch of sass and must seriously learn to work together. They have their hands full soon enough with a gangland murder, the disappearance of a national sports hero, Russian oligarchs, corruption in the fashion world, a DJ dancehall drugs beef, and the murder of an outspoken opponent of bullfighting. Has a vibe similar to Death in Paradise, gorgeous scenery for miles and this working partnership that just has to become more, a la Moonlighting? A good antidote to lockdown blues.
The new-to-me streaming service Topic offers the limited series The Virtues starring the endlessly talented Stephen Graham. His performance as Joseph a desperate man separated from his ex-wife and beloved son is phenomenal, so good that I found myself fixed on him to the exclusion of everything else on the screen, watching this bravura work. You know Graham, he has a long list of credits, but this series finally puts him in the driver’s seat. Joseph’s a drunk, and in profound pain and recklessly decides to Ireland. He walks from Belfast to Dublin then further south to find the sister taken from the orphanage 31 years prior. The sequence where they meet is one of the great performance moments in recent TV. It’s tough viewing at times and somehow deeply rewarding. Shane Meadows directs. Also stars Niamh Algar, Helen Behan and Frank Laverty with music by PJ Harvey.
Brooklyn Prince was extraordinary beyond her years in The Florida Project, and she has chosen another role that showcases her unique abilities. Prince stars as Hilde, a girl with special gifts, not sci-fi gifts, real gifts, intelligence, curiosity and determination in Apple TV’s Home Before Dark. Her father, played by Jim Sturgess, a crime reporter, loses his job in New York and moves the family to his father’s deserted farm in Eerie Harbor. She went along on his NYC investigations “We were Holmes and Watson” she says, but soon finds crimes to solve in their new community. A neighbouring woman is murdered, prompting her to launch an online newspaper and report her findings. Big backlash. Seems the mayor’s son was kidnapped and murdered back in 1988 and someone close to her may have been present. The town’s still reeling from the event. There’s nowhere Hilde won’t go for clues at any time of the day or night and he has no concept of being a “little girl”. This is a realistic series, of interest to most ages, that is both serious and playful and artistically superior to what is normally available to the preteen set. The writing, performances, direction and music are top-notch.
Exclusive to Acorn TV and available April 6 is David Tennant and Cush Jumbo’s four-part psychological crime drama Deadwater Fell. The Scottish town of Kirkdarroch reels when a local doctor’s wife and three children burn to death in their home. The close-knit community is in disbelief when police reveal their deaths were not accidental; they were drugged and locked in, cuffed and the fire was set. Dr. Tom is hospitalized and comforted by his wife’s fellow teacher (Jumbo) who vows to investigate. Someone in the village did it. She remembers her late friend’s recent outbursts and their falling out and her affair with Dr. Tom. Secrets and lies, false faces, false hearts and memory stirred, pointing the finger at a potential suspect. This is good stuff, a potboiler set in a bubble harbouring human depravity. Woot! Tennant is so good when he’s bad.
The Other Lamb, a chilling cautionary tale about the abuse and control of women is the definition of isolation. Selah (Raffey Cassidy) was born and raised in a clandestine community of “wives and daughters” devoted to one man, their leader and husband, Shepherd (Michiel Huisman). His absolute control over these identically dressed women, living illegally in rural abandoned properties, is unquestioned, for most, it’s the only life they know. They are entirely dependent on his goodwill. Bad behaviour invites unchallenged physical and mental abuse. Selah has visions that make her doubt her situation, but she keeps her thoughts to herself. The ever-present sheep remind us of the women’s status, but Selah and the dominant Ram bond, symbolizing a potential new beginning. Police come to the property to say they must leave, and the next chapter in their cruel lives begins, without food, a destination or freedom. Malgorzata Szumowska’s sad story is a shocking reminder that communes may exist that feed on the vulnerable, that people take advantage. Three actors from Vikings revisit the cruelties of nature and weird wardrobes. On-Demand.
You may have noticed Iliza Schlesinger in Mark Wahlberg’s Spencer: Confidential; a force of comic nature. Netflix launches the insanely funny Iliza Schlesinger Sketch Show on April Fool’s Day and I urge you to check her out. Loud, brilliant, of the moment and endlessly energising in strongly conceived sketches that find her as the Female Jackass, the perfect Bro Wife, TV shill, and design expert, a Lady Gaga-esque diva, crime reporter, a candidate running for election on a what-to-say-when-someone-knocks-on-the-bathroom-door-when-you’re-already-in-there platform, her spiteful opponent (Dylan Baker), and the Topknot warrior. Honest to the gods of comedy, get in on this! No trailer available so check this out:
While gerrymandering (i.e. manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to favour one party) doesn’t really affect us in Canada, the doc Slay the Dragon reveals how the practice got Trump into office. Gerrymandering has its roots 200 years ago but in 2010, strategists upped their advantage by using dark money and Big Data to establish Republican dominance. A concerned Millenial Katie Fahey opened a Facebook group to fight the practice in her state, and a movement was born. Soon politicians and celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger came to the party, and Fahey worked tirelessly and managed to stop it in some states but with zero help from the Republican Supreme Court. On VOD
Not so much for all ages but starring another youthful future star Coffee & Kareem follows sassy twelve-year-old Kareem, played with outrageous verve by Terrence Little Gardenhigh and his mother’s boyfriend Officer James Coffee (Ed Helms). Coffee’s having enough trouble eking out time with his gf (Taraji Be. Henson) but he must also face Kareem’s barbs. Kareem really doesn’t like him, so he hires gangsters to do away with Coffee, not realizing he’s inadvertently dragged his mother into it. Now he must undo what he did and that means joining forces with Coffee, to face armed thugs. The language is blue, blue, blue and it’s not to everyone’s taste, but Gardenhigh is a comedy revelation. Where has he seen all these years! A Netflix movie.
We’ve been through a lot of emotions lately, but they will be sweet ones Tuesday as Schitt’s Creek takes its final bow. A final (and no doubt weep and smile-worthy) episode will be followed by a one-hour special. Thank you Schitt’s Creek, for everything for all these years. We love you.