Electric Dreams – Episode 8 : Autofac Review

Intelligent and timely, this episode of Electric Dreams combines elements of classic Sci-Fi and blends them into something which feels fresh and imaginative.

★★★★★

Set in a future in which nuclear war has decimated the world and what is left of humanity shelters together in the darkness, one all powerful company (Autofac) dominates. Vast factories belch out toxic pollutants using armies of robots to create products the world doesn’t want or need. Unmanned drones fly supplies out to the population who resent the robots that keep them oppressed. It is consumerism extrapolated to its logical extreme; Amazon on steroids. A rag tag band of people living in a cross between a hippie commune and a Mad Max style junk-land dream of stopping The Autofac, of taking over “the means of production”. This line is pertinent one, echoing as it does the revolutionary socialist Karl Marx.

There is certainly an air of revolution in this episode, led by the determined Emily Zabriskie (Juno Temple) who has echoes of Jennifer Lawrence’s Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games. Determined to overthrow the company they feel are destroying their lives, Emily and her companions Conrad (David Lyons) and Perine (Jay Paulson) capture an AI robot sent as a customer service representative from The Autofac and attempt to reprogram it to their advantage. From here they realize they only have one choice – in the face of retaliation from the heavily armed sentry drones at Autofac’s disposal they have to go on the offensive. There is of course a love story involved between Emily and the shy and bookish Avi (Nick Eversman), but it is refreshing to see that it is the female character who has the agency, who calls the shots and ultimately is the hero. Symbolically he is left behind in the settlement while Emily goes off to confront the vast factory.

As the episode progresses, the plot begins to twist and turn more than the dark industrial corridors of the factory innards. The episode calls into question what it means to be human in the era of advanced artificial intelligence, and how replaceable anything truly is. It also plays with the idea of implanted or false memories in the same way that the very first episode of Electric Dreams The Hoodmaker did so powerfully.  Throughout the hour Emily suffers from nightmarish flashbacks which clearly shake her and lead her and us to question if they are dreams,memories or something else entirely. The plot twists are unexpected and shocking – just when you think you have the ending pegged down, another curve-ball is thrown at you. After a series of extremely varying quality, it is refreshing that in this episode everything just seems to work. The visuals are an interesting mix of hippie and futuristic, the characterisations are interesting and the performances from Juno Temple and Janelle Monae (as Alice the Android) are strong.

The episode borrows heavily from other Sci-Fi material, but it functions as a pastiche to examine themes rather than just a dull unimaginative copy. Certain shots in the episode feel like direct homages to classics of the genre – Alice arriving in the drone ship is a clear copy of the classic image of the extra-terrestrial emerging bathed in light from the spaceship, the drone approaching the autofac factory is near identical to iconic image of the first time we see the Tyrell corporation in Blade Runner, and the androids look similar to those in Ex Machina (along with many other similar films in the genre). In the same vein as a lot of other Science Fiction, Autofac also has an environmental message woven throughout – the survivors explain that the factory just mass producing products is pointless when there are no people to consume them, and in doing so they destroy the planet and make it uninhabitable. If last weeks episode of Electric Dreams (The Father Thing) can be accused of rehashing old tropes of Science Fiction but coming up with nothing original or innovative to say about it, the reverse can be said of this weeks episode. Yes, Autofac uses common themes and elements, but uses them to explore and examine contemporary themes and ideas, rather than just repeating cliches for no purpose.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

To read reviews of the previous episodes in this series, please click on the links below:

Episode 1 – The Hoodmaker

Episode 2 – Impossible Planet

Episode 3 – The Commuter

Episode 4 – Crazy Diamond

Episode 5 – Real Life

Episode 6 – Human Is

Episode 7 – The Father Thing

Episode 8 – Autofac

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Electric Dreams – Episode 7 : The Father Thing Review

This homage to classic alien invasion films is a serviceable, if unoriginal, return to the screens for Electric Dreams.

★★★☆☆

Borrowing heavily from the Sci-Fi classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and injecting elements of the Father/Son story line present in many Spielberg films as well as copying elements from the hit show Stranger Things, Episode 7 of this anthology show is well directed and acted, but sadly feels completely unoriginal. Charlie (Jack Gore) is your average American schoolkid. Obsessed with baseball and living in the suburbs of Chicago, things start to change when, on a camping trip with his father Matthew (Greg Kinnear), mysterious “meteorites” fall from the sky. Soon after, Charlie begins to suspect that extra-terrestrial life is invading as he sees his father being taken over by a strange host which changes his behavior completely. As the episode progresses, he and his school friends realize the danger they are in from this quiet invasion, and take drastic action to resist. Sound familiar? Well it should – the narrative territory is well worn, with the previous episode of Electric Dreams – Human Is  playing on this idea as well, albeit in a very different context.

So if the story line is nothing new, does The Father Thing at least use this to comment on modern society, or open up a debate? The answer to that is unfortunately no, not really. The episode seems a little confused as to whether it is a homage to classic Sci-Fi, or attempting to modernize the genre for the 21st century. The episode utilizes a strange combination of nostalgia and modernity, not really knowing which style to go for. For example, Charlie and his schoolmates use instant messaging, video calls and social media to communicate with each other – this would suggest the episode was wanting to update the genre. Yet the episode begins with a camping trip, and a relationship based on the most classically American Father/Son sports – baseball. These tropes of classic sci-fi are filled with nostalgia, yet clash against other more modern aspects. With a few more tweaks, the episode could have felt much more relevant to the 21st century, rather than harking back to a bygone era.

Thankfully, other aspects of the this episode are more effective. Kinnear puts in a strong performance as the father, able to change faultlessly from warm loving patriarch to ice cold and emotionless clone. For a young actor Jack Gore is also excellent, believable and compelling as Charlie. The soundtrack is also used effectively to enhance the mood and level of tension, the dissonant pulsating music underlying the horror that Charlie feels as he gradually realizes what has happened to his dad. Yet while the relationship between Charlie and his father his set up well initially, it isn’t truly given a chance to develop before Matthew is invaded by the aliens. For an episode clearly very influenced by Spielberg, famous for his ability to inject humanity into his Sci-Fi projects, The Father Thing never really develops or dissects their bond in any meaningful way.

At the very end of the episode, Charlie harnesses the power of social media to tell people what he and his friends did, and uses the hashtag #resist. The use of this particular hashtag is curious – resist is the tag used as part of the ongoing protest against the presidency of Donald Trump. Is it that The Father Thing is attempting to tie in this episode with the Trump Administration? If so, it is difficult to see how, even metaphorically, there is much of a thematic link between the two. If not, it seems like a strange coincidence to use a hashtag so overtly linked to a real-world political movement, when another such as #resistance or #fightback would have the same narrative effect. Overall, an acceptable yet totally unoriginal episode in the Electric Dreams anthology.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

To read reviews of the previous episodes in this series, please click on the links below:

Episode 1 – The Hoodmaker

Episode 2 – Impossible Planet

Episode 3 – The Commuter

Episode 4 – Crazy Diamond

Episode 5 – Real Life

Episode 6 – Human Is

Episode 7 – The Father Thing

Episode 8 – Autofac

The League of Gentlemen Review – Series 4 Episode 3: Royston Vasey Mon Amour

A hilarious final visit to the worlds most unsavory town. The creators of this cult BBC show can bow out in style.

★★★★★

Early on in this episode a sign appears on a lamp-post with a notice stating “should have ended after season one”. Thanks goodness it didn’t, else it is unlikely that nearly two decades later we would still be tuning in to catch up with the reprobate residents of Royston Vasey. Back on top form in the final episode of this reunion, the thread which has joined the episodes together (namely, the threat to move the town boundary and therefore erase it from the records) reaches it’s conclusion in a rather surprising way. Edward (Shearsmith) and Tubbs (Pemberton), arguably the series’ most reprehensible duo, have kidnapped local council workers and enter into a tense and comic hostage negotiation with the police. Their sectionalist view is demonstrated perfectly in one hilarious line. The council worker tells Edward that “The authorities are on their way” in the form of the police. Edward Replies “The local authority?”, completely misunderstanding that this is an entirely different entity.

As the episode progresses we learn the real reason the town boundary is to be moved is so that central Government can avoid the public consultation needed in order to frack underneath the residents houses. This is as overtly political as The League of Gentlemen gets in this episode, and cleverly mocks the real life case of Lancashire County Councils ban on fracking being subsequently overturned by central Government in 2016. Elsewhere in the episode we are re-uinted with Les McQueen (Gatiss) of Crème brûlée, who has resorted to polishing the floors of local celebrities with his company “mop of the pops”. A regular visit to a local musicians house (a hilariously outdated take on Fat Boy Slim crossed with a Gallagher brother – take your pick which one) yields the surprise revelation that Les is a major celebrity in Eastern Europe, who are dying to meet him. This is one of the few characters who is granted a happy ending, a respite from the unrelenting bleakness that afflicts most of the other residents of this creepy town.

One of the weaker recurring sketches in the show has always been the lecherous Greek  father Pop. In these three specials, his narrative has struggled to get beyond his creepiness and preponderance for lying. Yet tonight the nightmare nature of Royston Vasey works on his family too, with a showdown in a butchers shop ending in true League of Gentlemen fashion. Having started all those years ago with Benjamin (Shearsmith) arriving on the train into the town, it was fitting that this series of specials should end with him leaving. Through the series’ Benjamin has acted as the shows only real voice of normality , having had to deal with hygiene and rules obsessed Harvey Denton (Pemberton), toad obsessed wife Val (Gatiss) and their two “Shining”-Esque daughers. At the end of last night’s episode Harvey’s spirit was transferred to Benjamin’s body, and this evening’s episode deals with the repercussions of this, as well as Ben’s escape. As Ben stands on the railway platform eager to leave the town, it is difficult to know how to feel. With such a strong trio of specials, the temptation would be to desperately hope for a whole new series to be commissioned, but with the worry that standards would slip. Perhaps it is best that we leave them on a high note, stuck in their backwater town. Who knows, we might pop in on them in another 20 years time?

 

This episode of The League of Gentleman is now available on BBC iPlayer here

To read the review of Episode 1 click here

To read the review of Episode 2 click here

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The League of Gentlemen Review – Series 4 Episode 2: Save Royston Vasey

In the second part of this excellent reunion, we catch up with more of the oddball characters of Royston Vasey as the community comes together to save the town.

★★★★☆

One of the marks of a truly good comedy is its ability to make you not only laugh, but feel for its characters. For a show as devilishly dark as The League of Gentlemen, with a cast of characters as reprehensible and downright disgusting as any assembled on television screens this surely is a big ask. And yet both during last night’s episode, and during this evenings second special the writing actually means we cannot help but feel sympathy for this cast of degenerates. Last night we discovered that job coach Pauline is suffering from dementia, and the bullying of her subordinate “dole scum” pupils is only being allowed as a form of reminiscence therapy. In a single moment the dynamic of the sketch is flipped completely from a simple reunion between characters to something bleak and heartbreaking. This evening features another tragic and totally unexpected Pauline related sketch, which is both moving and utterly hilarious.

The emotional cogs are stirred again in tonight’s episode, with Legz Akimbo Theatre Company’s founder and sole remaining member Ollie Plimsolls (Reece Shearsmith) desperately dreaming; firstly about being an award winning writer/director/actor and then waking up from that dream and settling merely for a reunion with his fellow Legz Akimbo actors Phil Proctor (Mark Gatiss) & Dave Parkes (Steve Pemberton) . While Phil and Dave have achieved their ambitions of being professional actors, Ollie has settled for a life as a drama teacher. There follows a toe curlingly cringy TIE (Theatre in Education) piece about stranger danger and pedophilia (complete with a poorly made and mis-spelt sign). 15 Years on, Legz Akimbo are still one of the high points in the show, managing to simultaneously mock theatre in education, struggling actors and adults attempting to discuss “issues” in an engaging way through drama. Despite having now well surpassed the age range at which I would be (un)fortunate enough to experience a real life of TIE, I suspect the worst version of such a piece is not a million miles away from the hilarious tripe that the Legz Akimbo crew earnestly produce.

Elsewhere in episode two we meet Toddy (Gatiss), a bingo caller in the town. In between calling numbers we learn a dark and humorous story, with the bingo lingo (two fat ladies, 88 etc.) forming part of the narrative. This sketch is well written and fantastically performed by Gatiss, but drags on a little too long and becomes a little too predictable towards the end. As the viewer you are almost waiting for the next number to be called, rather than it being an unexpected surprise. We also spend some of the episode with Tubbs and Edward. Having survived the train crash and the burning down of their store, they have set up a new shop in a condemned building and have kidnapped local council workers who have come to explore mysterious goings on in the supposedly abandoned block of flats. As the shows most iconic characters, Tubbs and Edward are also the easiest sketches to phone in. That’s not to say they aren’t still disturbingly hilarious with their catchphrases and parochial attitude, but since so much has already happened/been done by them, it feels like there may be little else that can be done with these characters. That being said, the standard of writing is exceptional in this reunion, easily matching the original series, and it is sad that tomorrow night may well be our last visit to Rosyton Vasey.

 

This episode of The League of Gentleman is now available on BBC iPlayer here

Episode 1 of this series is reviewed  here

Episode 3 of this series is reviewed here

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

The League of Gentlemen Review – Series 4 Episode 1: Return to Royston Vasey

Two decades on from their creation, The League are back and just as twisted and hilarious as ever.

★★★★★

Welcome back to Royston Vasey – A local town for local people. 15 Years after the series finished on BBC and 12 years after the feature length film, Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton and Jeremy Dyson reunite for three specials. But what has happened since we last found ourselves in among the oddballs and outcasts of the worlds strangest town? Well, Barbara the transsexual taxi-driver is up to date with the modern language used to describe the LGBT community, using it as a weapon to attack Benjamin for using the wrong pro-noun when addressing them (gender neutral only please). Benjamin is back for the funeral of Harvey Denton, but things have gone horribly downhill in his absence – although his twin daughters Chloe and Radclyffe are still haunting his every step. And Royston Vasey itself is full of shuttered up shops, with a packed food bank and derelict high rise flats.

With any program returning for a special, or series of specials, there is clearly a temptation on the behalf of the creators to phone it in. To just trot out the same characters and the same punchlines as before. Luckily, the creators of this cult classic black comedy have updated the context and the characters in bleakly humorous ways. While the characters remain the same, the writers haven’t rested on their laurels. In many ways, Britain in 2017 is more like Royston Vasey now than it was when the show originally aired. Austerity Britain has contributed to the victimization of those on benefits and a huge increase in food bank usage, while in many parts of the country the local economy has never really recovered from the financial crash of 2007/8. And so as the society we live in has become progressively bleaker, so the comedy used to reflect and satirize it must become darker to still feel relevant.

Since The League of Gentlemen was last on our screens, the creators of the show have all become household names. From Mark Gatiss’ involvement in Sherlock and Doctor Who, to Steve Pemberton in ITV’s Benidorm, the creators of the show have appeared in a wide array of comedy and drama in the intervening years. It is clear that none of them have decided to reunite purely for commercial benefit, but for the love of the show, the characters, and for the fans. For those coming into this show cold for the first time, some of the comedy relies on prior knowledge or at least familiarity with the characters. Yes the show is funny regardless, but an additional layer of its surreal strand of humour does depend on and understanding of the original TV series or film. If however you are a fan of The League of Gentlemen’s style of  bleak and disturbing humour, it is fantastic to be back in Royston Vasey – here’s to hoping we never have to leave.

This episode of The League of Gentleman is now available on BBC iPlayer here.

Episode 2 of this series is reviewed here

Episode 3 of this series is reviewed here

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

Electric Dreams – Season One Ranked

As season one of  the Channel 4/Amazon studios production Electric Dreams reaches its mid-season break, Whiplash Review looks back at the last six episodes and ranks them from best to worst.

Disagree with the ranking, or have your own opinion?

6. Impossible Planet (Episode 2)

impossible planet

Starring: Benedict Wong, Jack Reynor, Geraldine Chaplin

Synopsis: A pair of bored space-tourguides decide to con an old woman who wants to visit earth. They oblige, despite knowing Earth is uninhabitable yet discover that things may not be as they seem.

Verdict: A dull and plodding affair, this episode attempts to be profound while dealing almost exclusively in cliches. The script is dull, Reynor’s performance wooden and the whole episode smacks of being “bad sci-fi”. Impossible Planet offers nothing new or interesting at all to explore, instead falling back on age old cliche’s. At one point Irma points at her heart and tells Brian that “here there will always be mystery”. Just as the characters seem tired and jaded by their jobs and lot in life, writer David Farr’s script is stuffed with the same dull lines used in a thousand Sci-Fi plot lines before.

★☆☆☆☆

 

5. Human Is (Episode 6)

human is

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Essie Davis, Liam Cunningham

Synopsis: Set on a future earth running out of resources, Bryan Cranston is the Commander tasked with infiltrating an alien planet to steal Hydron. Yet when he returns he is not the same human who left, leaving his wife to question if he’s the same person at all.

Verdict: Suffering from a painfully low budget, the final episode is another great example of how not to do sci-fi. The sets are dull and uninspiring, the plot slow and the characters difficult to feel sympathy for. Cranston’s acting as Commander Silas is excellent in this episode, it is one of the few redeeming features in an otherwise lackluster hour. The episode could have explored the themes of societal and environmental breakdown in much more detail, and in the process perhaps been much more pertinent to today’s society.

★★☆☆☆

 

4. Crazy Diamond (Episode 4)

electric_dreams_crazy_diamond

Starring: Steve Buscemi, Sidse Babett Knudsen, Julia Davis

Synopsis: Ed Morris ( Buscemi) is Ed Morris, a genetic designer bored with life. His life is interrupted by a mysterious Jill (Babett Knudsen), an android who is determined to live longer than her shelf life.

Verdict: The episode isn’t terrible – Buscemi’s acting is serviceable, and the script does raise some interesting concepts – the episode is set on the coast, in a community of pods built precariously close to the sea. Coastal erosion means that these pods are in constant threat of falling into the ocean, and yet Ed and Sally are unwilling/unable to move. They are stifled in their life by rules and regulations – unable to keep food even a day past it’s expiration date, or grow their own food in an attempt to be self sufficient. A dull, unoriginal slog which wasn’t even saved by the acting chops of it’s stellar cast.

★★☆☆☆

 

3. The Hood Maker (Episode 1)

the hood maker

Starring: Richard Madden, Holliday Grainger

Synopsis: This series opener depicts the struggle between the “normal” populace of the country, and “Teeps”; those with telepathic abilities able to read the thoughts of anyone in the country.  Agent Ross (Madden) is a government employee tasked with harnessing a Teep called Honor’s (Grainger) telepathic abilities in order to find and arrest those rebelling against the Government’s Anti-Immunity Bill.

Verdict: A bold opening to the show, which brings up many pertinent themes but sadly fails to explore them in any meaningful way. The manner in which Teeps are ostracized and treated like second class citizens in this dystopian future is so relevant in today’s post Trump/Brexit world, yet the episode instead chooses to focus on the relationship between Ross and Honor. An entertaining and stylish hour, it’s visual style is part Blade Runner, part Life on Mars. While the universe presented in the first episode of Electric Dreams is interesting in many ways and presents some interesting themes to explore, it never quite manages the dizzying emotional and intellectual sucker-punch needed.

★★★☆☆

 

2. The Commuter (Episode 3)

Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams

Starring: Timothy Spall, Tuppence Middleton

Synopsis: Ed (Spall) is works in Woking railway station, and is stuck in a loveless marriage with a difficult son. One day he is offered the chance to escape to the perfect villiage of Macon Heights – a railway station that shouldn’t exist. Upon returning to his real life, he realizes he’s paid the ultimate sacrifice for his dreams of escape.

Verdict: Like all the best Sci-Fi it is open to many different interpretations. Does Macon Heights represent an allegory for religion, a dream, a psychotic episode or merely a yearning for a life free from responsibilities. It confronts the viewer with an uncomfortable truth – in having to look after his difficult teenage son Sam, Ed has become miserable. Those we love the most are not always the best for us. Yet the alternative presented here is even more unpalletable – separate yourself from the world and do not even attempt to meaningfully connect to someone else or accept responsibility. The only episode of Electric Dreams to date which is set in the here any now is also one of the strongest.

★★★★☆

 

1. Real Life (Episode 5)

electric dreams real life

Starring: Terrence Howard, Rachelle Lefevre, Anna Paquin, Laura Pulver

Synopsis: Switching between the near and the far future, this episode explores the nature of reality itself, as two characters – Sarah (Paquin) and George (Howard) both use virtual reality headsets and find themselves in each other’s lives. As the lines between reality blur, both start to question what is the dream, and what is real life.

Verdict: An engaging and well directed exploration into a fascinating subject matter. It makes you constantly question which world is real or if both of them could be, while leading towards a devastating and tragic finale. The acting from the leads is excellent, with Terrance Howard’s George particularly memorable as the guilt wracked billionaire. Strong supporting performances are also found in the form of Georges friend and confidant Paula (Laura Pulver) and Sarah’s girlfriend/partner Katie (Rachelle Lefevre). Real Life plays out as a fast paced action thriller –  a succinct hour long exploration of a basic concept, done well.

★★★★☆

 

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Electric Dreams will continue in 2018.

 

 

 

Electric Dreams – Episode 6 : Human Is Review

The final installment of this inconsistent series is one of the weakest to date. Dull and plodding, even the excellent cast can’t save this episode.

★★☆☆☆

When it was first announced, one of the main marketing points of Electric Dreams was the involvement of Bryan Cranston. Most famous for his role in Breaking Bad, Cranston also produced several episodes of the hit AMC show. While also executive producing this Sci-Fi anthology series, the main attraction was his starring role in one of the episodes. Considering his huge star status, it was a bold move not to feature his episode earlier in the season, perhaps opting for a “best-till-last” method instead. And while Cranston’s acting as Commander Silas is excellent in this episode, it is one of the few redeeming features in an otherwise lackluster hour.

Set on Terra (Earth) in the 26th century, the show’s premise is based around the hunt for precious minerals. Their society needs Hydron to survive, and has resorted to invading and mining other planets in order to do so. Commander Silas (Cranston) is a decorated military commander who given a covert mission to the planet Rexon IV to take much needed Hydron back. After a disastrous mission, his ship returns, but Silas isn’t the man he once was – in more ways than one. The episode spends much of its hour setting up the dynamic between Silas and his wife Vera (Essie Davis). While married, it is clear that there is no love or affection between the couple. Silas is emotionally distant and at times abusive, they both choose to spend time away from each other, and Vera travels to the underbelly of their society for sexual gratification. While the setting up of this dynamic is clearly necessary in order to show the contrast in his personality when Silas returns, far too much of the episode is devoted to this. Cranston’s performance as both the cold and repressed Silas and the compassionate, caring Silas upon his return from Rexon IV are utterly believable, and is one of the seasons best performances, however this set up slows the plot to snails pace.

Science Fiction often portrays a world on the brink of either societal or environmental collapse, and this is something explored in Electric Dreams too. Episode 1 – The Hood Maker  showed a society on the brink of melt down due to the divide between Teeps and Norms, and Episode 4 – Crazy Diamond alluded to environmental collapse with the characters living in a community on the edge of a cliff with severe coastal erosion. Human Is alludes to both of these – their society is desperate for minerals due to over-exploitation of their own world, and society appears to be breaking down forcing people underground for sex. The scene where Vera does so is fascinating, yet also jars with the tone of the rest of the episode. The rest of the episode is set in a dull, grey world with dull uniforms, and as the only scene featuring such strange visuals it doesn’t fit. The episode could have explored the themes of societal and environmental breakdown in much more detail, and in the process perhaps been much more pertinent to today’s society too.

The episode also suffers from strangely low production values. While the rest of the season featured serviceable CGI, and Real Life felt genuinely cinematic in it’s portrayal of blockbuster action and a futuristic society, it is almost as if Electric Dreams had run out of money by Human Is. The sets are featureless and dull, the costumes on the whole are bland, and the only action sequence – that of the battle on Rexon IV is only ever shown through grainy camera footage. This makes the show feel a little like an intentionally low budget Red Dwarf style show rather than a Channel 4 & Amazon Video co-production. On a series of very uneven quality – from the excellent Commuter & Real life to the dull Impossible Planet, it is a shame that the series ends on such a weak note. Having been described by Channel 4 as “A diverse anthology of ambitious, moving tales”, with a few exceptions the show has rarely managed to elicit much of an emotional reaction at all.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

To read reviews of the previous episodes in this series, please click on the links below:

Episode 1 – The Hoodmaker

Episode 2 – Impossible Planet

Episode 3 – The Commuter

Episode 4 – Crazy Diamond

Episode 5 – Real Life

Episode 6 – Human Is

Episode 7 – The Father Thing

Episode 8 – Autofac

 

Gunpowder Episode 3 – Review

The action packed finale of this big budget BBC historical drama is a fittingly gory conclusion to this excellent mini-series.

★★★★★

The final part of this three part mini-series uses the momentum created from the first two episodes as a springboard for the action and violence of its epic conclusion. While episode 1 & 2 usefully focused on the backstory of this historical drama, allowing the viewer to understand the motivation behind the plot, episode 3 turns its attention to the failed plot itself and its consequences. The episode also features some spectacular action sequences, from Fawkes’ one man stand as he guards the gunpowder, to the last stand of Catesby and his fellow rebels. This scene in particular is visually stunning – as the plotters charge towards the King’s men led by Sir William Wade (Shaun Dooley), the action turns into slow motion. This allows the viewer to see the sheer brutality of the fight in incredible detail – every strike and slice with a sword, every musket shot fired and every man falling to his death. The sequence was mesmerizing, showing not only the action itself, but the passion and conviction with which the conspirators fought.

The other stand out action sequence of the episode is that of Fawkes guarding the gunpowder. Trapped in an underground croft with enough gunpowder barrels to destroy the Houses of Parliament, Fawkes is discovered by Lord Cecil and his men. His desperate last stand against a whole platoon of men, and his manic determination to succeed regardless of the personal cost is incredible to watch. How historically accurate this particular scene is may be questionable – was Fawkes within seconds of completing his task when Cecil arrived, or was this merely done for dramatic tension? Regardless of which one, this scene and Catesby’s stand off demonstrates starkly the ends to which these men were willing to go.

One criticism of last week’s episode was the unclear narrative use of Liv Tyler’s character Anne Vaux. This is made much clearer in this finale too – previously it was hinted at that there was romantic/sexual tension between her and Father Garnet (Peter Mullan), but this is explored much more in this episode. As the gunpowder plot unravels, Father Garnet comes to the conclusion that as a known Jesuit Priest he is likely to be hunted down and executed. The scenes between Garnet and Vaux are touching – each cares deeply for the other, but knows due to Garnet’s role in the church such a relationship would be forbidden. As the King’s men descend on Garnet’s house, his final choice is heartbreaking and noble. and the acting of both is tragically compelling.

Gunpowder‘s final episode is a fast paced and action packed final hour, bringing together different narrative threads which had been built in the first two episodes. It continues the story line regarding the peace treaty, as well as Lord Cecil’s quest to convince the court of the plot and that it is is not just a way of him consolidating power. It also explores James I’s likely homosexuality in more detail. As the King is confronted with Fawkes himself, he recoils in fear, and is asked by Sir Philip Herbert (Hugh Alexander) if he needs help being brought to his bedchamber. In the previous two episodes their relationship could certainly be described as close, but this is the clearest indication that the King and Herbert had a gay relationship. It is fairly well known that James I had male lovers, and it is credit to the BBC that in a series with so many other narratives that they ensured that this was also explored.

Marketed very strongly as a show staring Kit Harington and Liv Tyler, it is interesting that their characters and performances weren’t the strongest in the series. While both of them put in serviceable performances, other actors stood out much more strongly. Once again Shaun Dooley excels as Sir William Wade, with plenty more juicy torture scenes with which to demonstrate the vileness of his character. Tom Cullen as Fawkes himself is also excellent in this finale, with his transformation from the dangerous and manic plotter to the miserable and broken prisoner utterly irresistible. Mark Gatiss’ Lord Robert Cecil on the other hand, while still a great character, fails to find the emotional range across the series, and instead by the end begins to look a little like a caricature. This is not to say that any of the performances were poor – across the board they were good, it is just a little ironic that in a show so heavily advertised as the Kit Harington show Catesby and his portrayal were far from the most interesting thing in it. Overall Gunpowder proves to be an excellent series with a dramatic conclusion, which is sure to get people more interested in this era of British history.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

Episode Three of Gunpowder is available now in the UK on BBC iPlayer here.

To read the review of Episode One please click here or for Episode Two click here.

Gunpowder Episode 2 – Review

Ratcheting up the tension like one of its brutal torture scenes, this explosive BBC drama continues on its captivating journey towards the failed plot.

★★★★☆

Would you be willing to die for your faith? And if you believe so strongly in your faith, do you trust that God will work to resolve things, or should you take up the fight yourself at any costs? These are the central questions asked in episode 2 of Gunpowder. Following on from episode one, which focused on the historical and religious context, episode two sees the key conspirators of Robert Catesby, Thomas Wintour, Jack Wright and Guy Fawkes (Kit Harington, Edward Holcroft, Luke Neal & Tom Cullen respectively) begin to come together to work out the details of their plot.

Adding to the historical context of the series are illuminating scenes between King James I (VI of Scotland) – played by Derek Ridell and his court negotiating with the Spanish over a peace treaty. Spain and England have been at war for years and the financial costs are mounting up. Both nations seek a peace treaty, but Philip III the King of Spain refuses to grant this because, as a devout Catholic, he feels it his duty to defend and protect the Catholics of England under persecution by James I and his parliament. These negotiation scenes between the Spanish side led by the Constable of Castile (Pedro Casablanc), and the English side led by Lord Robert Cecil (Mark Gatiss) are excellently done, and make what could be quite dull scenes of diplomacy into snappy well acted scenes with each side attempting to double cross the other.

Another theme developed further in this episode is how far you are willing to go for your faith. As the plotters swear allegiance to each other and offer up their lives for their cause, the priest from episode one Father Garnet (Peter Mullan) staunchly advises against violence and action. Garnet is of the persuasion that as true believers, God will deliver them from their plight, while Father Gerard feels action regardless of its consequences is needed. This leads episode two to its scene of brutality – a torture scene in the Tower of London. Led by the menacing Sir William Wade (Shaun Dooley), Father Gerard is brutally tortured in a scene sure to see another barrage of criticism on social media. Episode one of the show was criticized by some for gratuitous use of blood and violence in its extended execution scene, and those viewers are unlikely to feel more at ease with the proceedings in this episode. The scenes however are historically accurate, with Catholics actually being tortured and killed in such brutal ways.

This episode also gives us a little more character and depth on the most famous plotter – Fawkes himself. In a scene between the main conspirators, each is asked in turn to declare his faith and offer his life. Fawkes is hesitant to do so, leading Catesby to question his devotion. He states “God knows I’m his servant, he’s heard 1000 times all he needs to hear from me.”. Fawkes refusal to fully commit himself in front of others shows an interesting dynamic between him and the other plotters. Does he truly care about the Catholic cause, or is he just a violent criminal seeking to kill and destroy for the sake of it? While we learn more about Fawkes’ character and his motivation (or lack thereof), one character who’s purpose is still not fully clear is Liv Tyler’s Anne Vaux. As Robert Catesby’s cousin she is clearly connected to the main characters and acts to an extent as the voice of reason, yet she has had no real impact on the narrative. Could it be that her inclusion was simply to shoehorn another famous face into the case for commercial purposes?

Gunpowder has so far managed to pack in huge amounts of background into two hours of television and manage to do it in an entertaining and engaging way. It strikes a good balance between plotting and action sequences which truly bring history to life. While the creators have taken a few liberties with the exact details –  substituting characters or changing them, it is broadly an accurate account of what we know of the plot. Once again, the performances of the cast are broadly excellent with Shaun Dooley’s William Wade the stand out performance as the determined and vile  Sir William Wade. With one more episode yet to come, this series is on track for a grand finale.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

Episode Three of Gunpowder premiers on BBC One on Saturday 4th November, to read the review click here. To read the review of Episode One please click here.

 

Gunpowder Episode 1 – Review

Gripping and gory, the first installment of this BBC drama demonstrates you don’t always need big action sequences to create a tense series opener.

★★★★☆

Remember remember the fifth of November, Gunpowder treason and plot. But what exactly do you remember about the Gunpowder plot? Perhaps not a lot, other than the name of the infamous Guy Fawkes? This new BBC Drama hopes to change that with a retelling of the plot to blow up the houses of parliament. Executive produced by Kit Harington, a distant relative of  one of the plotters Robert Catesby, this three part drama aims to provide a more detailed historical telling of the plot to kill the King.

Opening in 1603, the first episode spends much of its hour explaining the historical and religious context behind the gunpowder plot. In an era of Catholic suppression under Protestant ruler King James I (James VI of Scotland), Catesby and others gather in secret, practicing Catholic mass and swearing loyalty to the Pope. The episode begins with a spectacularly tense scene in which men loyal to the King search Catesby’s residence attempting to discover a hidden priest hole. While this may sound a little dry and historic to those hoping for a thrilling opening, the episode soon turns gory. In a scene sure to shock some, Catesby and fellow Catholic supporter Anne Vaux (Liv Tyler) watch on in horror as Catholics are brutally executed in public. This scene, combined with the horrified reactions of Catesby and Vaux in juxtaposition to the cheering crowd of onlookers, excellently demonstrate the isolation and persecution that Catholics at the time must have felt.

The casting of the show in on the whole brilliant. Mark Gatiss is perfectly cast as Lord Robert Cecil – advisor to the King and one of the key men who eventually uncovers the plot. Gatiss has made a career of playing intelligent and scheming characters, and in Gunpowder he is clearly in his element. Kit Harington, while currently best known as the brooding Jon Snow from HBO’s Game of Thrones, is here instead the brooding Robert Catesby. As of yet the role has not stretched him hugely, with much of his performance based around looking mildly disgusted or gloomy. It is clear that this episode is largely concerned with setting up the motivations behind the plot, rather than the plot itself. Considering the name most people know from the plot is Guy Fawkes, it is a bold move from the show to only show the infamous conspirator briefly at the end of the episode, however this pays off well. Tom Cullen’s Fawkes appears genuinely menacing, and it is apparent that much of the explosive tension of the series will lie in the scheming between Catesby and Fawkes, and the dynamic between the two.

Gunpowder is also well filmed, with great attention to period detail making the settings feel authentic. The show ranges in setting from the grand and ostentatious court of the King to the muddy streets of the public execution, and demonstrates the clear difference between the Monarchy and his subjects. The cinematography is crisp and functional, avoiding too many arty shots in what is ostensibly a period piece, while the music helps create tension; in particular in the extended first scene. Harington also served as an executive producer on the show, suggesting that his career may also show promise behind the camera. In focusing on the context of the plot and setting up character, the first episode of this three part BBC series has done an excellent job of building tension and suspense. It is now up to the next two episodes to set up the action of the infamous plot.

 

If you enjoyed reading this review, please like, comment or share it. If you’d like to see more reviews, click the follow button in the bottom right hand corner to get regular updates from Whiplash Review.

Episode Two of Gunpowder will premiere on BBC One on Saturday 28th October, and is reviewed here.