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Posts Tagged ‘Channel 4’

I’ve been overloading on polar dramas lately by watching both The Last Place on Earth (1985), about Scott and Amundsen’s race for the South Pole, and this more recent Channel 4 mini-series, starring Kenneth Branagh in the title role, which was repeated recently on a UK satellite TV station. In the wake of Amundsen and Scott’s triumphant and tragic journeys to the Pole, Shackleton came up with a different but equally daring type of challenge – a trans-Antarctic expedition. His group ran into deadly danger when their ship became trapped in the ice and was crushed, but the mini-series traces how they overcame all the odds to make their way back to civilisation, without losing a single member of the expedition team.  

From the opening scenes onwards, I realised that Shackleton was a top-quality production  – I hadn’t spotted the name of the director and writer, but it was no surprise to discover that it was Charles Sturridge, director of the classic ITV adaptation of  Brideshead Revisited. The first episode of Shackleton, set in the period just before the First World War, has the same atmosphere of aching nostalgia as Brideshead, similarly showing the last vestiges of a privileged world about to be torn apart. The blend of landscapes, costumes and music here also has the same kind of  seductive power as the country house scenes in the earlier series. For Shackleton, the music is by Adrian Johnston, composer of many of my favourite TV and movie soundtracks, and the cinematographer is Henry Braham, who also filmed yet another period drama I’ve watched recently, The Land Girls (1998), also full of beautiful landscapes.

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How good was The Devil’s Whore? After watching the whole series, I’m still struggling to make up my mind. It seems to me as if perhaps the best answer I can come up with is that this drama set during the English Civil War was wildly uneven – brilliant at one moment, then slipping away into histrionics at the next.

One reason why this series didn’t have the consistency of co-writer Peter Flannery’s previous work, the landmark TV series Our Friends in the North, was that Flannery and co-writer Martine Brant were forced to cut the script back from a projected 12 hours to just four. Flannery reportedly faced marathon struggles to have both series produced at all – a wait of about 14 years each time – and must be hoping that his next project makes it to the screen more easily.

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However, despite being hacked back so mercilessly and having to move at far too fast a pace, the film still made compelling viewing, and all the main actors, including Dominic West as a somewhat Machiavellian Oliver Cromwell, John Simm as the tortured Edward Sexby, and Andrea Riseborough as heroine Angelica Fanshawe, gave fine performances.

The opening titles claimed the series was the “true story” of Angelica’s life, but in fact she was the only completely fictional character worked into this turbulent historical saga. It was Martine Brant’s idea to focus the story on a woman, giving a different perspective on an episode of history dominated by famous men.

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