Gallery Update: The Village 2×06 HD Screen Captures

I’ve added 335 HD captures from the sixth and last episode of The Village’s second series. Enjoy!

Lady Clem makes it clear that she will block any divorce as Martha moves back with her father, who is now living with Joy Dangerfield. Caro demands to see her son but the family informs her that he is dead and she attempts suicide. She is rescued by Bairstow who locates the child and brings him to Caro, who in turn takes him to see the Middletons, John making a full recovery, thanks to Phoebe’s speech therapy. Edmund attempts to sack Bairstow but is thwarted when the agent threatens to reveal his sexuality. Bill Gibby, whose party is out of power but is leader of the city council in Sheffield, returns. He is anxious to build a reservoir to bring clean water to Sheffield but it will involve flooding the village as Grace discovers, announcing the plan to the villagers, who give her whole-hearted support in opposing it. Sour Norma Hankin has cause to smile though on discovering that she is pregnant, Martha and Gerard flee the country to work in Africa and Bert proposes to Phoebe, who accepts.

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Gallery Update: The Village 2×05 HD Screen Captures

I’ve added 405 HD captures from the fifth episode of The Village’s second series. Enjoy!

As John lies in a coma two hectoring policemen arrive, more intent on proving the villagers were trespassing than finding out who shot John. Grace seeks help from Bill, whose declaration of love for sets tongues wagging. Principled George, a journalist, is leaned on by his family to demonize the ramblers and by the police to incriminate Gilbert, Bert and Gerard, refusing the latter. He is under more stress when Martha leaves him for Gerard, though the Allinghams will not sanction a divorce. With the lads on trial for trespass Bairstow seeks to discredit Bill as a witness but an act of altruism by George leads to a not guilty verdict and grounds for a divorce.

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Gallery Update: The Village 2×04 HD Screen Captures

I’ve added 225 HD captures from the fourth episode of The Village’s second series. Enjoy!

Bert considers leaving the village after receiving a postcard from Ghana Jones in London. Meanwhile he acts as best man as Gilbert marries Agnes. Arnold Hankin holds a reception in his dance hall and is positive about the marriage but his bitter wife Norma resents the fact that Gilbert has married a woman who bore another man’s child. After the wedding Martha and Gerard succumb to passion in the schoolroom whilst Bert and Phoebe go for a walk on the moors and are confronted by a sour-faced gamekeeper as the Allinghams are now fencing off the land. On the morning of his wedding to Harriet Lady Clem discovers that Edmund is, indeed, a homosexual after catching his lover sneaking out of his bedroom early. but makes him go through with the marriage for show. Bill Gibby returns after nearly a year away to Grace’s delight and joins her, Robin the vicar, Bert and others in a protest march on the newly-enclosed land. John races to stop Grace but is shot when guns are turned on the peaceful ramblers.

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Gallery Update: Snapshots of Comic Strip Presents…Red Top.

Imagine Rebekah Brooks roller-skating through the Sun newsroom…

Imagine Rebekah Brooks roller-skating through the Sun newsroom…

Imagine Rebekah Brooks roller-skating through the Sun’s newsroom as editorial staff, having been told to avoid making eye contact, duck below their desks.

And conjure up this image: a wheelchair-bound Rupert Murdoch locked in a room by Wendi Deng as she spends time with guitar-strumming Tony Blair.

Closer to the home of this blog, envision the former Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger leading a news conference sing-song of the newspaper’s anthem with a refrain about swinging to the left.

These are just three of the memorable scenes from a wonderful TV satire, Red Top, to be screened later this month.

It’s a glorious, irreverent post-hacking lampoon, a fantasy set in the 1970s with flairs, moustaches and disco music, that tells the story of Rebekah, an ingenue from the north of England who, having accidentally become chief executive of News International, gets embroiled (innocently of course) in a scandal.

At two previews, I witnessed audiences laughing aloud, and often, at the unfolding of the surreal plot and the hysterical portrayals of the main characters.

Conceived and written by Peter Richardson – with co-writers Pete Richens and Brigit Grant – it is his latest Comic Strip presentation.

Maxine Peake stars as the beguiling Brooks, the eponymous red-top, and there are a clutch of brilliant cameo performances. They include Harry Enfield as Ross Kemp, Brooks’s ex-husband; Stephen Mangan as Blair; Russell Tovey as Andy Coulson; Nigel Planer as Murdoch; and Eleanor Matsuura as Wendi.

Look out also for Johnny Vegas, Alexei Sayle, Dominic Tighe (as a subservient David Cameron) and a double role by John Sessions.

Richardson describes Red Top as a “Boogie Nights-style parallel universe with a disco soundtrack.” And I agree with Gold’s commissioning editor, Simon Lupton, who said: “The script is wonderfully hilarious and playful.”

Red Top is due to be shown on UKTV’s channel, Gold, at 10pm on 20 January. It is not to be missed.

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The Comic Strip’s ‘Redtop’ gives a satirical kicking to Brooks, Blair and Murdoch

The Comic Strip’s ‘Redtop’ gives a satirical kicking to Brooks, Blair and Murdoch

Nigel Planer is showing me a video selfie he made in his Plymouth hotel bedroom – facial close-ups of Planer practising playing Rupert Murdoch for a new Comic Strip spoof, Redtop, about the phone-hacking scandal. It’s hard to tell from these exercises how effective will be the former Young Ones star’s imitation of the media tycoon – but if it’s as half as clever as his Peter Mandelson in the 2011 pastiche The Hunt for Tony Blair, then we are in for a treat.
“Because I’m not an impressionist, I try to latch on to an internal feeling”, says Planer of the way in which he nailed Mandelson’s slippery inscrutability, admitting that he was assisted by a grudging sympathy for his subjects. “Everyone thinks they know Murdoch, but if you watch as many hours of him in interviews as I have, you come to quite like him. He’s not a Spitting Image puppet – that kind of satire is very shallow, cheap and easy.”

Where The Hunt for Tony Blair imagined the New Labour Prime Minister as a fugitive in a 1950s film noir (guilty of the murders of, among others, John Smith and Robin Cook…), Redtop transposes recent events to the disco-era 1970s. Stephen Mangan reprises the role of a perma-grinning Blair, with Maxine Peake as Rebekah Brooks and Russell Tovey as Andy Coulson. The starting point for the Seventies backdrop, says writer and Comic Strip major-domo Peter Richardson, was Washington Post journalist Carl Bernstein comparing the phone-hacking scandal to Watergate.

“We even have our own ‘deep throat’-style whistleblower – a Sun reporter played by Johnny Vegas”, says Richardson, who based the character on Sean Hoare, the late News of the World showbiz reporter who originally broke the scandal when he spoke to The New York Times. “Also in the Seventies Tony Blair was in his rock band Ugly Rumours. In our film he’s started a new band with a funkier message, called Positive Thinking…”

“There’s something incredibly enjoyable about Stephen Mangan as Tony Blair in a massive moustache and sideboards in a ludicrous Afghan jacket and green shirt and platform boots”, says Planer. “And to have Rebekah Brooks on roller skates throughout the film… a good analogy for her water-off-a-duck’s back life, that she just skates through everything.”

“I’ve got this fabulous long red wig,” adds Peake when I catch up with her later. “It starts off with her leaving school in the north and hitchhiking her way to London and entering into Rupert Murdoch’s offices. I spoke to people who met her and everybody said, ‘Very charming… she always got what she wanted from people.’ ”

Peake, who was born in Bolton, says the only part of her research into the Warrington-raised Brooks that truly surprised her was a shared taste in music. “She was really into the band the Cramps, which I liked, and I didn’t think me and Rebekah would have anything in common,” she says. “She’s lost her accent in this, like she has in real life. It’s Cheshire anyway, and they’re a bit posh there.

“It’s very tongue in cheek; everyone gets it in the neck in a lighthearted way,” adds Peake of this, the 42nd entry in a Comic Strip Presents… canon that began on the very first night of Channel 4 in 1982 with the Enid Blyton satire Five Go Mad in Dorset. But can you be lighthearted about a scandal that included the phone-hacking of the parents of the murdered schoolgirl Milly Dowler? “That’s where we tread very carefully,” says Peake.“Nobody who was a victim of that is referenced in this piece.”

Instead, there is much fun made of Brooks’ various relationships – with Andy Coulson and her former husband Ross Kemp (played by Harry Enfield). A different problem for such a topical satire might be that none of it is, well, all that topical. Planer himself is sorry that Murdoch’s alleged romance with Jerry Hall hadn’t made the gossip columns when the film was being written.

“We need a sequel,” he says, before going on to explain the time lag. “We’re very quick turning them round; it’s the broadcasters who aren’t. They can sit on it for years sometimes. The initial ideas for this one are over three years old. It’s immensely frustrating.”

Richardson doesn’t agree – believing that the time lag allows space for a fuller picture to emerge, as well giving the lawyers a chance to pore over the script. “I think everyone’s still scared of News International [now known as News UK] or the people involved, which I think is quite chilling”, he says, adding that without the distance between idea and execution they wouldn’t have known about Blair’s alleged affair with Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng (played here by Eleanor Matsuura).

“We made good use of a Vanity Fair article which was about 30 pages of comings and goings, including with Murdoch ending up in casualty with her beating him up.”

Meanwhile the real Rebekah Brooks was acquitted in 2014 of involvement in phone hacking at News International, the Old Bailey jury accepting that as the newspaper’s head she was more or less incompetent. It’s the line that Richardson takes with his fictionalised Rebekah. “She’s a poor, innocent northern girl who comes down and accidentally becomes chief executive of News International,” he says, “with people around her doing horrible things she doesn’t know about.”

Richardson originally co-created the Comic Strip to showcase his double act with Planer, which began in the late 1970s. “Peter’s a pretty single-minded individual,” says Planer when I ask him to dissect their partnership. “He doesn’t – unlike the rest of us – take jobs somewhere else. And I’m the opposite: I can duck and dive… I’ve worked in all sorts of styles.”

Indeed, Planer’s career has been extraordinarily diverse, taking in West End musicals, a Spinal Tap-style spoof rock band (Bad News, the subject of a Comic Strip spin-off) as well as films and TV dramas and comedies (most recently as Matt Le Blanc’s lawyer in Episodes). He has also written books, plays and a slim volume of poetry. But he remains famous for two roles – Neil the lugubrious hippy in the seminal 1980s sitcom The Young Ones, and a precious actor, Nicholas Craig, in a series of spoof masterclasses. “Neil and Nicholas Craig come from my own self,” he says. “They’re not like acting jobs. For years I used to be like Neil; then after Neil I wasn’t.”

Planer and Richardson both cite The Strike, the 1988 spoof on the miners’ strike, imaging Al Pacino in the role of Arthur Scargill, as one of their favourite Comic Strip films; while Planer says he’d like to make a sequel to a couple of more recent offerings, Four Men in a Car (1998) and Four Men in a Plane (2000), road movie comedies which starred Richardson, Planer and Planer’s former Young Ones co-stars Adrian Edmondson and Rik Mayall. It would, he says, be a tribute to Mayall, who died suddenly in 2014.

“It would be an Ortonesque piece where the coffin goes missing,” says Planer. “We could call it Three Men and a Funeral, which I think would be funny – and I think Rik would have liked it. But you can always say that when someone’s died…”

‘Redtop’ is on Gold on 20 January

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Gallery Update: The Village 2×03 HD Screen Captures

I’ve added 320 HD captures from the third episode of The Village’s second series. Enjoy!

John starts to make a success of the farm at last whilst Grace and Bill try to get Agnes reinstated at the factory. Clem tells Edmund that, as a prospective member of parliament, he should not give his opponent Labour candidate Bill a martyr and Agnes is taken on by Norma Hankin as her maid. When Bairstow reveals her pregnancy Norma sacks her and she prepares to leave the village but the adoring Gilbert stops her. Kilmartin’s daughter Harriet arrives at the Allinghams with Clem anxious that she should marry Edmund though they are both uncomfortable with the idea. Bert starts to date Phoebe and Bill, voted for by George and Grace but not John, wins the election to be the local MP. Emboldened by this victory Grace challenges Clem to give the name and details of the child born to Caro and her son Joe.

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How Silk became a highlight of recent TV history

Peter Moffat became a barrister in England and then resigned from the bar to put his legal experience to work in a new career, television scriptwriting. He wrote for a series called Kavanagh QC, invented North Square, about barristers in Leeds, and then created Criminal Justice, in which each episode follows an individual through the judicial system. After that he invented Silk, an engaging series that has enthralled many Netflix subscribers and many PBS viewers as well.

Silk ran three seasons on the BBC, from 2011 to 2014. It was cancelled before I even glimpsed it but now it looks like one of the highlights of recent TV history. The cases it depicts are fairly standard but its picture of the legal profession feels fresh. It delivers an often funny, frequently tense and maybe realistic (Moffat swears it’s realistic) account of life among barristers at the Shoe Lane Chambers in the ancient Inns of Court in London.

It’s not overly complex but Canadian viewers have to know in advance that British lawyers do not function like ours. Britain has solicitors and barristers. Solicitors can solve many legal problems but going to court requires a barrister. As the public face of law, a barrister appears wigged and gowned before a judge and jury while the solicitor wears a business suit and sits in silence. If the barrister’s gown is silk, the barrister wearing it is a QC, or Queen’s Counsel, also called “a silk,” in theory a superior form of barrister. You hire a silk, as in, “This is an important case. We should brief a silk.” While remaining independent they may play the role of prosecutor or defence counsel. (That was the Canadian practice long ago but remains now mainly in theory.)

At the centre of the story stands Martha Costello (Maxine Peake), a bright, ambitious and good-looking barrister whose struggles and self-questioning we follow in detail. She’s unusual in just about every way. When she’s upset she puts on her headphones and listens briefly to the punk sounds of the Clash. That seems to calm her down.

In court Martha displays a delicate ferocity. She identifies emotionally with clients, including those accused of murder. She has a habit of squeezing their hands while saying she can help only if they’re truthful. She loves to say that the four vital words in law are “innocent until proven guilty” but experience has taught her that the word “innocent” applies to only a few clients. Others may not have done what the police charge them with but have probably done something else quite wrong.

She stays with them to the last anyway, and usually on the winning side. Poised and articulate, she evokes comparison with Marie Henein, the stylish queen of criminal lawyers in real-life Toronto. But Martha, being in the alternate universe of television, becomes a figure of high drama. In court she sometimes yells at a witness, revealing her emotions. That’s the kind of thing Henein dismisses as “bush-league.”

When Silk first appeared on PBS as a Masterpiece Mystery! two years ago, the Los Angeles Times critic classified it as “The Good Wife meets Law and Order: UK.” Not quite. The Good Wife takes us into many corners of its heroine’s life, introducing us to Alicia Florrick’s troubled kids, her annoying alcoholic mother, her heart-warming gay brother and her ex-husband (she has a shaky divorce).

Silk ignores all such possibilities and narrows its focus to the office and the court. Law and Order: UK begins with policemen at work, whereas Silk prefers to show us policemen only when they appear in the witness box, where Martha’s merciless cross-examination rips apart their bogus evidence. A key phrase in the series is “fitted up,” which has the same meaning as “framed.” Corrupt cops “fit up” someone with false evidence to get a conviction.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a TV series about the law must contain a robust sexual element. The long-ago American series, LA Law, had many lecherous characters, including a divorce lawyer who routinely seduced his clients. The characters in the firm of Barr, Robinovitch and Tchobanian on Street Legal (it ran on the CBC for eight seasons in the 1980s and 1990s) fought for many noble causes but seemed equally interested in their vivid private lives. Sometimes they also fought battles for sexual freedom. At one point a workman harassed the lawyer Olivia Novak (Cynthia Dale) as she passed his job site. Olivia felled him with her briefcase.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a TV series about the law must contain a robust sexual element

In Silk, sex is limited to professional connections. Working late, obsessed with their careers, the barristers on Silk and their underlings never manage to meet anyone else. Even an unwanted pregnancy turns out to be the result of intra-office love.

Martha Costello’s closest associate in the Chambers is Clive Reader, played by the dashing actor Rupert Penry-Jones. A handsome chap from a good family, Clive can’t figure out what to do with himself. He and Martha have a short-term sexual history. He knows his background fits him to do something distinguished but his earnestness can’t hide the truth that he’s a rather dim twit mainly interested in seducing younger barristers. He may find a niche as a prosecutor.

In the British system the senior clerk (pronounced clark) of Chambers is a figure of importance, expected to keep track of the barristers, find work for them through the solicitors, work out the fees and keep the chambers solvent. Shoe Lane’s senior clerk, Billy Lamb (Neil Stuke), perhaps Silk’s most interesting character, believes he’s smarter than the barristers and thinks he controls them. There’s a rumour that he’s corrupt, which might mean he’s taking bribes from solicitors. Billy is forever jumping around the Chambers, anxious to impress everyone, keeping alive the warfare between barristers and never quite hiding his forlorn dreams of love with Martha. Micky Joy, a solicitor from outside who works for a crime family, is Silk’s most obviously evil character, played with reptilian satisfaction by Philip Davis.

Nowadays the BBC has many competitors but its surprising scripts and talented actors keep reminding us that it still provides rewarding television.

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Gallery Update: The Village 2×02 HD Screen Captures

I’ve added 312 HD captures from the second episode of The Village’s second series. Enjoy!

Whilst John struggles to maintain his farm there are changes in the village.
Nurse Joy Dangerfield arrives, to give family planning advice to the likes of Norma Hankin, whilst Hankin opens a dance hall. His son Gilbert escorts factory worker Agnes, the former mistress of Bairstow, who has had her sacked and the two men fight on the dance floor.
Bairstow also recognizes that Edmund is a homosexual and makes subtle digs, upsetting Edmund’s lover, Robert and causing them to break-up.
Bill Gibby persuades Grace to join his Sunday cycling club and she is impressed by his commitment to socialism though her husband disapproves of the friendship.
Martha returns to teaching, Bert wrongly assuming that she has sent him a love letter, which in fact came from station master’s daughter Phoebe Rundle, who encourages his talent for photography.

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