Word on the Wire

Month: March, 2015


I watched two superb films last week and they couldn’t have been more different from each other. The first was the very British drama, based on the life of brilliant mathematician, Alan Turing, ‘The Imitation Game;’ the second, set in small town America, ‘The Judge’.
Turing has come in for a lot of attention in recent years, and quite rightly so. Instrumental in breaking Enigma, the unbreakable German encryption code used in World War II, he was both an unsung hero and, perversely, a criminal after being despicably treated by the Establishment because of his homosexuality. While I understand that he lived during a time when homosexuality was a crime and there was also a need to keep his wartime activity a secret, it seems bizarre that someone who did so much should have been hounded in the way that he was. Offered Hobson’s choice: a prison sentence or chemical castration, Turing chose the latter. His suffering, brilliantly portrayed by Benedict Cumberbatch, is utterly haunting, particularly in the final scenes, and I’m amazed Cumberbatch didn’t pick up an Oscar.
Stellar performances were also on display in ‘The Judge’, featuring Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Junior. Hank Palmer (Downey) a successful and cynical big city lawyer, is forced to return home to defend, his dad and eponymously named judge, (Robert Duvall) after he is accused of murder. But what’s interesting is that the murder story and subsequent court scenes are almost incidental. The ‘meat’ of the story is the volatile relationship between father and son. Brutal, visceral and honest, it rings with authenticity. And this brings me to the big point.
Screenwriters and novelists have much in common, but perhaps the most overriding feature is that they are both amateur psychologists. To write convincingly about characters, it’s necessary to understand how human beings tick and behave given any set of circumstances. We’ve all watched films and read books in which you’re forced to think that he or she ‘wouldn’t have done that.’ Often when this happens it’s due to the writer trying to fulfil the requirements of plot at the expense of characterisation. Clearly, none of this applies to the films mentioned here. Masterclasses in human psychology, they rate very highly indeed.



Last week I flagged up ‘Hostages’, ‘Bnei Aruba’, an Israeli version of the US drama already aired by CBS. Writing about the series in glowing terms, I stated in print that I’d spotted a flicker of romance between Dr Yael Danon, (the surgeon held hostage) and her abductor, Adam Rubin. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In fact, I was wrong about a lot of things other than the fine performances. When the concluding episode took place after a triple bill on Saturday night, I pretty much felt as though I’d misunderstood the entire series. I love to be surprised and have the rug pulled on me. I marvel when, looking back to earlier scenes in a drama, I see precisely the path of certain events (set-ups) only for the ‘pay-offs’ to be delivered later, along the lines of: ‘So that’s why x and y happened.’ Did I get a sense of this in the finale? Nope. Maybe too much was crammed in to the last episode. Maybe I was tired. I have no idea, but the end result was less than satisfying. If you have to scratch your head to try and work out what exactly took place and why, there’s a problem. Finales should be thrilling and clear.

There was no such doubt in my mind when watching an entirely different animal on Sunday: ‘Fury’, starring Brad Pitt. Set in 1945, in the last days of the war, the film focused on US tank regiments in Nazi Germany.   Badly outnumbered, and with the formidable firepower of German ‘Tiger’ tanks ranged against them, Brad Pitt, who plays a battle-hardened tank commander, takes his crew to the very limit. This is no Hollywood sanitised version of war. Bloody, brutal, visceral in the horrors it depicts, the film nevertheless challenges the viewer not to look away.   Pitt gives a great performance, but for me the real star of the movie was Logan Lerman, who plays Norman, the hastily drafted in tank driver who in a previous life was a humble clerk. Norman, a decent, innocent young man, is forced to grow up and face the reality of war and loss extremely quickly. I first saw him in Noah in which he plays the ill-fated son, never destined to have a wife. He corners the market in vulnerability and he brought that same vulnerability to the part he plays in ‘Fury’. At only twenty-three years of age, I’d wager that he’s a great star in the making. I hope I’m not wrong about that! On which subject, great news to hear that Jack Huston has landed the main part in the remake of ‘The Crow’.   I loved his portrayal of disfigured Richard Harrow in ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ and genuinely thought him destined for great things. Strange to say, a publisher who passed on my novel, ‘Beautiful Losers’ said that ‘disfigurement wasn’t sexy,’ the remark aimed at my character, clinical psychologist, Kim Slade. Sexy or not, ‘Beautiful Losers’ will be published next year by US publisher, Midnight Ink.


Like a spoilt kid, I whined last week ‘what the heck am I going to watch next?’ Remember, this was after I’d been glued to a number of dramas that had floated my proverbial boat. Sure enough, suggestions for alternative viewing poured in – special thanks to Oliver Goom.

Meanwhile, I checked out BBC 4, always a reliable source for high-class drama, and was delighted to stumble across ‘Hostages’, ‘Bnei Aruba’, an Israeli version of the US drama previously aired in 2013 by CBS. It’s a simple enough premise: a surgeon, due to operate on the Prime Minister, is told to kill him if she wants to save her family from certain death. The surgeon, Dr Yael Danon played by Ayelet Zurer, ingeniously tests herself to the limit as she seeks to find a way to protect her family while also protecting the life of the PM.

In a small cast strong characterisation is vital and Hostages doesn’t disappoint. There are some phenomenal performances, not least of all by Jonah Lotan, who plays Adam Rubin, chief hostage-taker. Make no mistake, this is no mindless thug, and do I imagine a flicker of romantic interest between abducted and abductor, along the lines of Stockholm syndrome? Or is the super smart surgeon simply manipulating the man who has the power of life and death over her and her family? And what a family! Dad is a headmaster with heavy-duty financial problems; seventeen year-old daughter is pregnant, and fifteen year-old son, a picture of strutting teen arrogance, hacks Daddy’s email account in order to sell exam papers.

Lotan, as Rubin, treads a fine line between credibly menacing and compassionate. One gets the impression that he has been wronged somewhere along the line and this explains why a good guy takes such extreme measures. Naturally, the gang has a resident psycho in tow, only tamed by a female hostage-taker who is more glacial than the Snow Queen. With a plot that twists and turns so that you are never quite sure who is pulling the strings, it’s a treat.

Flip back to 18th Century Cornwall and a remake of Poldark. I admit I was a bit flaky about the prospect but, having seen the trailer, and decided that Aidan Turner is a magic piece of casting, I tuned in on Sunday night.   Yup, I really enjoyed it. Again, strong script and acting prevails, and I’m looking forward to the next episode. So all is well in my world…


In the last couple of weeks the fifth season of French cop drama, ‘Spiral’ (Engrenages) and the second series of ‘Broadchurch concluded. ‘Wolf Hall’ came to a bloodily predictable end, and we (not the royal, you understand, but me and my other half) also chomped through the entire fourth season of ‘Game of Thrones’ in a few days.   Although wildly different in genre, there were common denominators, namely the high level of storytelling coupled with superb acting. I’m not sure it’s ever quite struck me as strongly before, but I’ve never been so aware of how one expression in a character’s eyes can convey so much. In this regard, the final shot in ‘Wolf Hall’ feels as if it’s branded on my brain. In the wake of Anne Boleyn’s beheading, Henry, played by Damien Lewis, looks like the proverbial cat that got the cream as he clasps Thomas Cromwell, played by magnificent Mark Rylance, to his chest. Cromwell’s expression conveys something else entirely: horror at what he was a party to, namely the stitch-up and death of a foolish and unlucky woman, and a deadly premonition that the same fate could well await him. It’s a thrilling moment and, to misuse a parliamentary term, the ‘eyes’/’ayes’ certainly have it.

In a similar vein, Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage, gives a blistering performance, (among many blistering performances) particularly in the closing episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’. It’s almost impossible to be moved by the expression on his face as he realises that both his father and the woman he loves has betrayed him. In those sad, doleful eyes, you can read an entire life story of hurt and humiliation. As ever, the script based on George Martin’s novels, ramps up the body count and delivers surprises and twists right to the very end. ‘Thrilling’ is a word often bandied about, but the entire fourth season, a rollercoaster of intrigue, tension, suspense, and exceptionally fine cinematography, genuinely knocked my socks off. Brilliant stuff that has spring-boarded a number of careers, and no wonder actors are queuing up to secure a part.

My big problem is what the heck to watch next…

On a separate note, if you haven’t yet had a chance to catch the CLIC ‘Get in Character’ auction, check it out: www.clicsargent.org.uk/getincharacter

There’s still time to put in a bid for this very worthwhile cause. The closing date is Sunday March 8th at 8.00 pm.