Downton: Episode Two



Heavens. Anna’s bought a garter? What debauchery is this? Episode Two reviewed here. Slightly disturbed by the “too much information” trailer for next week’s episode which appeared (unintentionally?) to reveal (a) Mrs Hughes’ sorry fate and (b) the entire fate of Downton Abbey, soon to be transplanted to Downton Place. If the family is turfed out of the Abbey by Episode Three, what’s left for the rest of the series?

Meanwhile I’ll be on Sky News tomorrow (Monday 24) at 9.30am and on BBC World at 12.30pm. discussing Downton at the Emmy’s. Perhaps I’ll wear a garter.


Downton: Episode One


Downton’s back! And so is the series blog! Click here for review of Series Three, Episode One. Verdict: promising. Not quite as trashy as Series Two. But not as polished as Series One either. And I am still trying to work out whether they actually, technically, properly got married.


Downton’s Back!



Hurrah! It’s back! Great excitement about the return of Downton Abbey. Click here for pre-match analysis (no spoilers). The new Guardian series blog will go up 30 seconds after the end of tonight’s episode. And at the same time every Sunday thereafter. The comments usually get heated on Monday morning. Just like Mrs Patmore’s soup.


Strictly’s back: Superfans rejoice!



Strictly super fans — and as you can see I am one* — voting paddles AT THE READY. Seven! Although maybe that will be too high a number. Ahead of tomorrow’s show (6.30pm, BBC1) I am more worried than excited. According to Russell Grant (YES, HE IS MY FRIEND ON FACEBOOK**), this year’s Strictly will be “more technical than showbiz.”

Gah! This feels less like a crowd-pleaser and more like a justification for (a) the inclusion of Denise Van Outen who is a professional dancer who has appeared in Chicago on the West End (I paid to see this *coughs*) and Girls Aloud’s Kimberley Walsh who is a professional dancer who has appeared in Shrek on the West End (I did not pay to see this, I had learnt my lesson) and (b) dumping Alesha Dixon as a judge in favour of uber-ballerina Darcey Bussell who, whilst lovely, seems a strange choice for a BBC 1 prime-time Saturday night show. No matter. VICTORIA PENDLETON TO WIN. Ah-maz-ing.


* This was the dress worn by NATALIE CASSIDY for her waltz with Vincent Simone in Series 7. I had the pick of hundreds of dresses and this was THE ONLY ONE THAT FITTED ME.

**He is not really my Friend on Facebook. I just Liked his page and now I get updates from him 3847 times a day.


R4 Front Row review: Anna Karenina


Keira Knightley in great acting shocker! Not to be mean. I like her in Pirates of the Caribbean which I have seen 157 times due to the viewing habits of other inhabitants of my household. But I wondered when Knightley was going to find a role which allowed her to shine. Anna Karenina is it.

I reviewed Joe Wright’s latest (he also directed Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, also starring Knightley) on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row. Pic here. Mark Lawson agreed that it’s a great film but not flawless. Listen here from 10mins30. The much-vaunted “theatre” idea doesn’t quite hang together. For the first third of the film all the actors walk through a moving stage, with Anna sometimes watching from the wings. It’s a wonderful device: very bold and original. And obviously supposed to represent the pantomime that Anna’s life as a loyal wife and mother has become.

Then when the action moves from Moscow to St Petersburg suddenly we’re (mostly) in real life and your usual costume drama landscape territory. I wished they’d had the guts to do the whole thing in the theatre.

Favourite bits? Matthew Macfadyen’s comic turn as a bombastic, cabbage soup-hating Stiva (Anna’s brother). Olivia Williams as Vronsky’s glamorous, seductive mother who initially encourages Anna to have an affair (“I’d rather end up wishing I hadn’t than wishing I had”) but is then horrified when her own son becomes the target. Downton Abbey’s Michelle Dockery (one of my favourite actresses) as Princess Myagkaya, the only one who supports Anna (“In my opinion Karenin is a fool and Anna is the best of us”). And Princess Betsy’s flatulent puppy.

Verdict? Shades of Amelie, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge.  A must-see. Just close your eyes for the bit where Karenin (Jude Law) gets out the velvet box where he keeps his creepy contraceptive sheath…


Pic above from 1914 Russian silent film version starring Maria Germanova as Anna Karenina.


Radio: Voice of Russia



“Breast-feeding: is it best for every baby?” — from the Voice of Russia a London-based English language radio station which broadcasts internationally. Like the BBC World Service but Russian. So not really like the BBC World Service at all. And with HUGE bowls of Fox’s glacier mints in the foyer. Which are definitely not available at the BBC. Although they should be. Listen here

I’m talking in a 30-minute panel discussion about breast-feeding versus formula. The other guests: Jill Dye from La Leche League (“I’m not saying formula is poison. But…”), midwife Sharon Trotter and, down the line from Los Angeles, Suzanne Barston, who runs the blog Fearless Formula Feeder (“standing up for formula feeders. Without being a boob about it”). Needed a lot of glacier mints to get through it. 



TV: “Hello, is there anyone out there…”

Paper review on Sky News with LBC’s Ian Collins and Sky’s Jayne Secker. About ten seconds in we all realised that no-one would be watching us in the entire universe because England vs Italy had just gone to penalties. Curiously liberating. Ian Collins and I had a stand-up row (or as stand-up as you can get when you are sitting on a TV sofa) about the welfare state. It was the tree-falling-in-the-forest of political debates. So let’s pretend it never happened. Because it might as well not have done.


Sky News picture by MorningFrost. Old television pic by Maximiliano Galardi.

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