There aren’t many films that leave me open-mouthed once, let alone more than once, but Promising Young Woman certainly achieved that when I saw a recent online screening. I knew almost nothing about it beforehand and by the end, it had easily become one of my favourites of this year’s Awards season (although I’ll make a final decision on rankings when I’ve watched them all). Not only that, but it is a film that should be required viewing for all adults.
Without giving too much away, the film centres on 30 year old Cassie (Carey Mulligan), who lives with her parents, works in a coffee shop and inhabits a world of candyfloss pinks and floral prints. Yet, her projected sugary sweet demeanour is a mask, hiding a much darker reality that she keeps hidden from everyone.
Due to a harrowing event in her past, one which has left her emotionally scarred and which changed the path of her life entirely, Cassie is carrying a huge amount of anger, rage and pain on her shoulders and it is this desire for justice and revenge that is at the heart of the story and keeps you gripped from start to finish, as it takes some unexpected twists and turns along the way.
Carey Mulligan is simply sensational, further demonstrating her incredible versatility as an actress (this role is world’s away from the one she played so wonderfully in the recent The Dig). We see many versions of Cassie during the film and Mulligan handles each one perfectly, whether it’s the cheery woman in colourful put together outfits, singing along to a Paris Hilton song, or the broken, vulnerable woman struggling to look ahead because of the past, or the ruthless woman determined to force people to confront their darker, crueler choices. She balances each persona and skilfully conveys all of the emotions Cassie is feeling in every scene. You can feel the burden that she’s carrying, even when she’s seemingly cheery to the outside world and that’s a testament to Mulligan’s talent.
Becoming the first British woman to be nominated for an Oscar for Directing (and indeed achieving it for her first feature film), is writer, director and producer Emerald Fennell (probably currently best known for playing Camilla in the last two seasons of The Crown) and it’s certainly an impressive project to begin with. Perhaps it’s inevitable that young women like myself have a strong reaction to this film, but its release in the UK couldn’t be more timely, following the recent, passionate calls for greater recognition of the problems of women’s safety and society’s attitudes to the behaviours of men and women and what’s deemed acceptable, or indeed expected. Some may watch this film and think it is trying to be too sensational, but I didn’t think so and that attitude is missing the point of the wider conversations this film should create.
Yes, some of the events in the film are perhaps presented in a way that would never happen in reality, but the difficult truth is that many of them can and indeed do and the question becomes whether we have, as a society, for too long accepted certain things that should’ve been addressed decades ago. This isn’t an anti-men film either and anyone who thinks so is missing the bigger point and I particularly loved the fact Cassie isn’t just determined to confront men on their behaviour. Two of my favourite scenes revolve around her forcing female characters, who through looking the other way she sees as complicit, to face up to the frightening realities of the scenarios they have chosen to ignore.
The script from Fennell accomplishes many different film genres in one story. Some moments you could be watching a traditional romcom, before it pivots in to a darker, more uncomfortable place, before throwing in some truly comedic elements to keep you on your toes and the question hangs over the film as to how it will end. I was certainly rooting for Cassie to find a sense of peace in whatever form that could take and Mulligan certainly deserves to be a frontrunner for awards recognition.
The film’s production design is also a huge asset, creating Cassie’s pink, flowery, hyper-stylised world to the extent that it almost feels too much, while also blending that with the much darker, more dangerous places the film wants to take you, yet presenting these in a way that seem perfectly ordinary, reinforcing the fact that awful things can happen anywhere, even in environments that we all think should be safe. There’s also the brilliant soundtrack, including a take on Britney Spears’ Toxic that couldn’t be more appropriate.
Not everyone will like this film and I imagine some will passionately dislike it, some purely on the basis that it’s made them feel uncomfortable, but I thought it was brilliant and a few weeks on from watching it, I’m still thinking about it. It’s daring, bold, provocative, funny, emotional and disturbing and yet still feels like a balanced narrative. There is no better time for the conversations and debates that it should provoke and I’d encourage everyone to watch it.
Promising Young Woman will be released in the UK on Sky Cinema and NOW (formerly Now TV) on 16th April 2021. If you’re not a Sky TV customer, NOW works like Netflix for Sky TV and Film channels – you can start a free trial and then pay monthly, switching it on and off as you want to without any commitment.
It’s been a very strange year for film fans and as I write this cinemas here in the UK remain closed, only reopening after this year’s big film awards have been announced and this has had an impact on the access UK film fans have to the nominees this year. Over in the USA, audiences have had an opportunity to see most, if not all, of the nominees by now, whether at movie theatres that remained open for longer than here, or thanks to better on-demand platforms / availability in that market. Here, it’s not as straightforward and the result is that not all of the films will be available prior to the Oscars taking place next month.
However, there are some fantastic films in contention in 2021 and in recent weeks more and more have announced on demand releases in the UK prior to the Academy Awards. In fact, as I write this, it seems that you will be able to watch all but one of the Best Picture nominees before Oscar night. I admit, as a strong supporter of cinema, I’m conflicted about VOD options for big films, but as a one off option for those that are interested in access before awards are handed out, I’m all for it.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been lucky enough to gain access to some preview screenings of some of the films (reviews will start to follow on this blog in coming weeks) and as I make my way through the others available before Oscars night on 25th April, I thought there might be other film fans out there who might find it useful to have a resource to find out when and where all of the Oscar nominees are released here. If there is no price information listed, then the film is free to stream on that service. If I’m aware of there being different platforms with different prices, for the same film, then I’ve included those too. Everything is here, with the exception of Best Song nominees, as those songs can be found and listened to without watching the film.
Right. Let’s get to the films!
Judas and the Black Messiah
Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Supporting Role (x2!); Original Screenplay; Cinematography; Original Song
Available to watch – now, on premium on demand services such as Amazon Prime Video, Sky Store, BFI Player and Virgin TV.
Promising Young Woman
Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actress in a Leading Role; Original Screenplay; Film Editing
Available to watch – on Sky Cinema / NOW (formerly NOW TV) from 16th April
The Trial of the Chicago 7
Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Supporting Role; Original Screenplay; Cinematography; Film Editing; Original Song
Available to watch – now on Netflix
Sound of Metal
Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Leading Role; Actor in a Supporting Role; Original Screenplay; Film Editing; Sound
Available to watch – on Amazon Prime from 12th April
Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actor in a Leading Role; Actress in a Supporting Role; Makeup and Hairstyling; Cinematography; Production Design; Sound; Original Score; Costume Design
Available to watch – now on Netflix
Nominated for – Best Picture; Actor in a Leading Role; Actress in a Supporting Role; Adapted Screenplay; Film Editing; Production Design
Available to watch – Available now via the Borderlines Film Festival (£8 / £6 concession). There’s also a scheduled screening via Ourscreen.com for 8th April (£5) (although I haven’t used that site mysOtherwise it’s not out until it arrives in cinemas from 11th June.
Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actor in a Leading Role; Actress in a Supporting Role; Original Screenplay; Original Score
Available to watch – Available now via the Borderlines Film Festival (£8 / £6 concession). Otherwise, it’s scheduled to be from 2nd April on demand (e.g. Curzon Home Cinema etc) and will also get a cinema release).
Nominated for – Best Picture; Directing; Actress in a Leading Role; Adapted Screenplay; Cinematography; Film Editing
Available to watch – annoyingly only available on Disney+ from 30th April
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
Nominated for – Actress in a Leading Role; Actor in a Leading Role; Makeup and Hairstyling; Production Design; Costume Design
Available to watch – now on Netflix
Nominated for – Best Directing; International Feature Film
Available to watch – in cinemas from 25th June
The United States vs. Billie Holiday
Nominated for – Best Actress in a Leading Role
Available to watch – now on Sky Cinema / NOW
Pieces of a Woman
Nominated for – Best Actress in a Leading Role
Available to watch – now on Netflix
One Night in Miami
Nominated for – Best Actor in a Supporting Role; Best Adapted Screenplay; Original Song
Available to Watch – now on Amazon Prime UK
Borat Subsequent Movie Film
Nominated for – Best Actress in a Supporting Role; Best Adapted Screenplay
Available to Watch – now on Amazon Prime UK
Nominated for – Best Actress in a Supporting Role; Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Available to Watch – now on Netflix
The White Tiger
Nominated for – Best Adapted Screenplay
Available to Watch – now on Netflix
News of the World
Nominated for – Cinematography; Production Design; Sound; Original Score
Available to watch – now on Netflix
Da 5 Bloods
Nominated for – Original Score
Available to Watch – now on Netflix
Nominated for – Makeup and Hairstyling; Costume Design
Available to watch – on Sky Cinema / NOW; Amazon Prime UK (£7.99 to buy)
Nominated for – Makeup and Hairstyling; Costume Design
Available to watch – now on BFI Player (rental £4.50) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99) / at some point in 2021 on Netflix
Nominated for – Visual Effects; Production Design
Available to watch – Amazon Prime UK (£4.99 rental)
Love and Monsters
Nominated for – Visual Effects
Available to watch – from 14th April on Netflix
The Midnight Sky
Nominated for – Visual Effects
Available to watch – now on Netflix
Nominated for – Sound
Available to watch – now on AppleTV
Nominated for – Visual Effects; Costume Design
Available to watch – now on Disney+
The One and Only Ivan
Nominated for – Visual Effects
Available to watch – now on Disney+
Animated Feature Film Nominees
Soul – (also nominated for Sound & Original Score) – Available now on Disney+
Onward – now on Disney+
Over The Moon – now on Netflix
A Shaun The Sheep Movie: Farmageddon – now on Amazon Prime UK
Wolfwalkers – now on AppleTV
International Feature Film Nominees
Another Round – see above!
Better Days – Amazon Prime UK (rental £3.49)
Collective – Amazon Prime UK (rental £3.49) / BFI Player (rental £4.50) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)
The Man Who Sold His Skin – [no release information as yet]
Quo Vadis, Aida? – Amazon Prime UK (rental £4.49) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)
Documentary Feature Nominees
Collective – Amazon Prime UK (rental £3.49) / BFI Player (rental £4.50) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)
Crip Camp – now on Netflix
The Mole Agent – Amazon Prime UK (rental £4.49) / Curzon Home Cinema (£4.99)
My Octopus Teacher – now on Netflix
Time – now on Amazon Prime UK
Documentary Short Subject Nominees
Colette – on the Colette DocShort YouTube channel now
A Concerto Is a Conversation – on The New York Times YouTube channel now
Do Not Split – on the Field of Vision YouTube channel now
Hunger Ward – [no release information as yet]
Love Song for Latasha – now on Netflix
Live Action Short Film Nominees
Feeling Through – [no release information as yet]
The Letter Room (starring Oscar Isaac) – now on Vimeo (to buy £4.99)
The Present – now on Netflix
Two Distant Strangers – on Netflix from 9th April
White Eye – [no release information as yet]
Animated Short Film Nominees
Burrow – now on Disney+
Genius Loci – [no release information as yet]
If Anything Happens I Love You – now on Netflix
Opera – [no release information as yet]
Yes-People – now on Vimeo (rental £1.99)
That’s everything! I’ll try to keep this updated if anything changes and feel free to let me know if you know of any information that I’ve missed.
If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on some of the big nominees, then keep an eye on this blog in the coming weeks. I’ll also post my annual Oscars predictions post nearer to the awards next month.
Now, time to grab the popcorn and get lost in the magic of film!
I know I’ve left this a little late, but my main reason was my desire to see as many of the nominated films as possible and today was my first opportunity to see Parasite (which has only just been released in the UK this week). More on that film coming up, but I’ll start by saying that, for the most part, it seems that this year’s awards are likely to be largely predictable, especially the acting categories and with only hours to go, the biggest question seems to be whether Parasite can be the first foreign language film to take Best Picture. Is that something the Academy is ready to do? I’m still not sure it is.
Yet, despite a lot of these “predictions” feeling rather predictable, I still wanted to set them out and see how many I get right (or indeed wrong). Full disclosure before I start – I’ve tried to see most of the films, but largely due to some films disappearing within a week from my local cinemas, I’ve not yet see Ford v. Ferrari (aka Le Mans ’66), Pain & Glory and Harriet. I’ve also been unable to see the film shorts, or the documentaries, so I’ll leave those categories out.
Right, that said, here are my thoughts on what I think will win and what I’d have voted for.
I’ll start with the big one – Best Picture. Of the eight I’ve seen, I’ve enjoyed most of the nominees this year, although I don’t think it’s as strong a year as other recent ones.
I enjoyed the epic scope of The Irishman, watching these lives over decades and thought Pesci was particularly impressive. It was perhaps 30 minutes too long though. Little Women was a welcome new interpretation of a story most of us have seen at least one version of by now and I enjoyed the way Greta Gerwig chose to move around the timelines here, giving the story a freshness I didn’t expect. It seems to be controversial, but I thought Joker was very good – for me, it was a powerful look at how someone, already vulnerable and in need of support from society, can spiral in to a frightening life. Did I think the violence was glamourised? No. It was far less violent than The Irishman (which was based on real events) and for me it wasn’t aiming to seek sympathy for a criminal; it simply forced me to ask difficult questions about the grey. It stayed with me for a long time afterwards. JoJo Rabbit was a real gem this year; a film you aren’t sure you’ll like, or should even like, but yet is one that becomes so much more than a film mocking Nazis. It’s a beautiful story of friendship, love and kindness conquering hate, which made me feel surprisingly hopeful by the end. 1917 was as powerful, moving and visually impressive as I’d been expecting. The one-shot style didn’t feel like a gimmick and I loved how it highlighted the incredible acts of bravery during WWI, alongside the tragic needless loss of so many young lives.
I didn’t particularly enjoy Marriage Story, despite appreciating the strength of the performances and wasn’t strong enough to win for me. As for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it seems people either love it, or found it rather tedious. I’m in the second group. It was so long (The Irishman felt like a short film compared to this) and not being familiar with the historical events that are changed, it didn’t resonate with me, the way it may do with others.
And so – my winner. Until today I wasn’t sure if there’d be a film this season that would really make me sit up in my chair and take a moment to acknowledge I’d watched something truly special. That changed earlier today, as I walked out of Parasite. I’ll review this separately, but I loved it. Clever, engaging, Shakespearian, filled with humour and darker moments in equal measure and able to convey so much about society and those at the top and the bottom in a way that hit home. For me, it’s the clear Best Picture. Will it win? I’m not so sure.
Will Win: 1917(unless the Academy are brave and do the right thing)
My Choice: Parasite
There’s not too much to say here, as I think the winner is already obvious and in my view, rightfully so. All four (of five) that I’ve seen are very good, although not all would have made my top five. I was particularly impressed with Jonathan Pryce in The Two Popes, which I really enjoyed (far more than I expected). I’d also say that, although I didn’t particularly like Uncut Gems, Adam Sandler’s performance was one that I do think deserved to be on this list and Michael B Jordan in Just Mercy should also have been in serious contention too. Yet, it’s ultimately moot, as no one was going to beat Joaquin Phoenix. He’s simply outstanding in Joker. The visual transformation is horrifying, yet it’s also the way he brings that character to life; every mannerism (the way he runs the same, whether or not he’s wearing the clown fit as one example), the different laughs and the sheer raw emotional power he brings to the screen. He’s always been a superb actor and he’s earned this one.
Will Win: Joaquin Phoenix
My Choice: Joaquin Phoenix
This seems to be another category where the winner seems all but guaranteed and from the nominees listed, I’ll be happy to see Renee Zellweger win this year. I wasn’t hugely impressed by Judy (perhaps partly due to seeing the play it’s based on End of the Rainbow, which impressed me much more), but she was excellent in this. A close second for me is Charlize Theron in Bombshell. Yet, my biggest issue with Best Actress is that my Best Actress this year isn’t nominated and that’s Alfre Woodard for Clemency, playing a female prison warden of a men’s prison. It’s the performance that has stayed with me and impressed me the most and it’s incredibly disappointing she isn’t nominated.
Will Win: Renee Zellweger
My Choice: Alfre Woodard
This is a tough one for me. I thought 1917 was terrific and a great achievement by Sam Mendes. Joker is also handled so well by Todd Philips, but for me the winner should be Bong Joon Ho. What he has achieved with Parasite is something very special indeed. This being the Oscars, I’m not sure who’ll win, but I have a feeling it’ll be Tarantino v. Mendes, so I’ll say Tarantino, as lots of Hollywood types seem to be in love with this film.
Will Win: Quentin Tarantino
My Choice: Bong Joon Ho
Actor in a Supporting Role
Having seen all five of this performances, none of them really stood out for me to be honest. They were all very good, but again, Jamie Foxx stood out in Just Mercy for me and he wasn’t nominated. It seems clear it’s Brad Pitt’s time to win, which I’m fine with and he was my favourite part of a film I didn’t really like.
Will Win: Brad Pitt
My Choice: Brad Pitt (notable mention for Jamie Foxx)
Actress in a Supporting Role
Again, I’ve seen all four performances and they were all very good, in very different ways. It seems likely Laura Dern will win, but for me the best were Margot Robbie, whose performance in Bombshell really felt real, conveying the awful situations too many women have found themselves in and Scarlett Johansson, who brought humour, fun and a great deal of emotion to JoJo Rabbit. It’s close, but I’d go with Johansson.
Will Win: Laura Dern
My Choice: Scarlett Johansson
I’ve seen four of the five, but this surely has to go to Roger Deakins for 1917. His work is helping create the one-shot style of this film makes the film what it is. If that didn’t work, the film would have far less power than it does.
Will Win: 1917
My Choice: 1917
Music is always hugely important to my cinema experience and a great score shines out, while not taking over the film. All those nominated do this very well this year, but it has to be Joker, as Hildur Guonadottir’s score helps to create the mood of the film and with some themes written before filming even started, the music really does feel as though it’s another character.
Will Win: Joker
My Choice: Joker
I’m probably starting to sound predictable by this point, but for me this should go to Parasite, for the sheer originality of the storytelling. Yet, I won’t be surprised if the Academy awards Tarantino.
Will Win: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
My Choice: Parasite
I think this will perhaps be where the Academy attempt to make up for that directing snub and acknowledge the work of Greta Gerwig, which I’m more than fine with, as the writing choices for this version of Little Women were a huge part of why I enjoyed it so much, although I do have a huge amount of love for JoJo Rabbit.
Will Win: Little Women
My Choice: JoJo Rabbit
I’m assuming this will go to 1917, but for me I’d choose Avengers: Endgame; a film which deserves something for being such a damn good film.
Will Win: 1917
My Choice: Avengers: Endgame
I’m less certain about this one, but I’d probably choose 1917, for creating such a very real world over the course of the journey of those characters. I’ll say the Academy will agree, but who knows!
Will Win: 1917 (maybe!)
My Choice: 1917
Makeup & Hairstyling
I honestly cannot decide who will win here, but personally, I think Bombshell deserves it, for all the effort to transform the actors in to those people, so that it was almost uncanny.
Will Win: Bombshell (maybe)
My Choice: Bombshell
Another one that I’m not confident about, but I’d give this to Little Women.
Will Win: Little Women?
My Choice: Little Women
As I’ve not seen the short films and documentaries, I won’t try and predict anything there and my knowledge of sound mixing and editing make these categories I’d be simply guessing. As for editing, I’ve heard a lot of talk about Ford v Ferrari, which as I haven’t seen, I can’t really comment.
I know this is late (blame the UK’s late release of Parasite!), but I’d love to hear your thoughts!
I’ve reflected on my theatregoing over the decade and my top television choices, but before I look ahead to films and theatre I’m excited to see in 2020 (those posts will be up over the next few days), I thought I’d have a think about my film highlights from the last 10 years. I’ve seen some people have decided to choose one film from each year of the decade, but if this is going to be my top 10 films, then I’m giving myself the flexibility of picking more than one from any one year.
So, in no particular order, these are my favourite film since 2010. It’s a personal list. They may not be the most critically acclaimed, but they are the ones that I was most impressed by, or which I love watching again and again.
I’m a huge fan of Christopher Nolan’s work (no other Batman is needed for me thanks) and not only did Inception impress me from the first time I watched it, but it is one of the few times I’ve experienced a regular public cinema audience applaud at the end of a film. It was clever, visually stunning and required its audience to focus and pay attention, not to mention a strong cast and a perfect score from Hans Zimmer.
I admit, I struggled for a long time to choose between Infinity War and Endgame, but in the end, I went with the one that served as the final chapter of the Infinity Saga (Spiderman: Far From Home aside). I loved Infinity War, but the fact Endgame managed to tie up the stories of so many characters in one film, in such a satisfying way, was beyond anything I could have hoped for. It was also thrilling, nostalgic, and contained the right amount of emotional gut punches. Plus I could listen to the “Portals” music cue on repeat all day.
12 Years A Slave (2013)
From my first viewing at the London Film Festival, which received a standing ovation from the audience (I’ve still never experienced that since), I’ve never been able to forget this film. It’s always an emotional experience to watch it, as the shocking true story of Solomon Northup unfolds, anchored by Chiwetel Ejiofor’s utterly breathtaking and heartbreaking performance. Am I still mad he didn’t win an Oscar for this? You bet I am! An important story that needed to be told, which makes me cry every time. You can read my original review here.
Speaking of crying during a film, Lion is another example of a film which makes me cry every time I watch it! It tells the incredible true story of a young boy, Saroo, separated from his family in India, adopted by a couple in Australia who, 25 years later, finally sets about trying to find his roots and his mother and siblings, with the help of Google Earth (in its infancy back then). The film bravely leaves young Sunny Pawar, who plays Saroo as a child, to carry the film until it moves forward in time to the present day. It could have failed, but instead it draws you in to the traumatic and heartbreaking experiences he faced, which invests you so much more in travelling with him as he seeks to find where he comes from as an adult. With wonderful performances from Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman, this remains a film I regularly recommend to people. You can read my original review here.
Arrival may first appear to be just another alien invasion movie, but this is not Independence Day and I loved this new, intelligent and deeply emotional exploration of not just contact with aliens, but also of what it means to be human and the importance of language and communication. Linguist Louise Banks, played by Amy Adams (hopefully the next decade will see her receiving some Oscar recognition), is tasked to find a way to communicate with the mysterious aliens who have appeared overnight in the USA (and in crafts around the globe). Aided by physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), the story starts in one direction and then takes you somewhere you didn’t anticipate and it stayed with me for a long time afterwards. You can read my full spoiler-free review here.
Inside Out (2015)
Inside Out may have been presented as a children’s movie, but it also speaks to every adult who sees it, highlighting how we change as we grow up and how our memories and how we feel about them can also change and the fact it works on so many levels highlights just what a superb film it is. Who doesn’t have memories that once were joyful ones, but have since been tainted by later life experiences? Yet, Inside Out reminds us that we need the difficult memories, just as much as the happy ones and it does this through a bright, colourful story about a young girl growing up and the little creatures that live inside all our heads, representing each of our emotions. I’m not sure what it says about me that Sadness was my favourite, but I loved this film and would recommend it to people of all ages.
The Hunger Games (2012)
Some may find this an odd choice, but I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunger Games movies, especially the first one and return to them often. A largely faithful adaptation of the original book by Suzanne Collins, it includes a very strong performance by Jennifer Lawrence and shouldn’t be snobbily overlooked because of its blockbuster franchise label. Add to that the wonderful support from Woody Harrleson and Elizabeth Banks and this story of a dystopian world in which children are used in a fatal game for the entertainment of the wealthy and to keep the weaker of society in line, is one very worth your time.
La La Land (2016)
La La Land was always bound to be on my list of favourites of the decade. From the first time I watched it at the London Film Festival, I absolutely loved it. It was a fun, colourful, funny, love story, which brought the magic of the classic film musicals of the past back to the big screen for a new generation. The soundtrack is so catchy, the dance numbers visually wonderful and the central performances by Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are captivating. It was a superb blend of the past and the present and I left the cinema smiling every time. You can read my original review here.
Free Solo (2018)
Another incredible film of the decade was the documentary about rock climber Alex Honnold, whose goal was to climb up El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, but without any form of ropes, in what’s known as a free solo climb. The documentary digs in to his life, from his childhood and the reasons he first took up climbing, as well as his attitude towards life when his climbing goals are his main focus. Through those also in his life, whether friends or family, we also see the effect of his choices on those who care about him. Watching this on an IMAX cinema screen was quite something and the tension in the room was palpable as we watched his ascent. I kept having to remind myself that it really was real and not a fictional film!
The Lady In The Van (2015)
The stage version of Alan Bennett’s play was before my time living in London, so thankfully it was turned in to a wonderful film, again starring Maggie Smith as the lady of the title and is based on the unbelievable true story from Bennett’s own life – when an elderly lady, Mary Shepherd, who lived in a little van, moved on to his driveway and stayed for 15 years! It’s a charming British film, full of humour and poignancy, as we learn more about Mary and how she came to be living this way. Alongside that, we get an insight in to Bennett and his life as a writer, as he often discusses his predicament with an imaginary version of himself; a version he’d perhaps like to be more like if he dared. Boasting a cast full of British theatre acting talent and led beautifully by Smith and Alex Jennings, this is a film very dear to my heart.
The Greatest Showman (2017)
I was late to The Greatest Showman. I admit, the critical mauling when it first arrived in cinemas put me off and I just never made time to see it. That was until I watched in with my mum after it was available to rent on a streaming service and it was not what I expected. The main reason? I loved it! Yes, it’s a bit cheesy in places and yes, it’s not all true to the story of P.T Barnum, but it was hopeful, uplifting and made me feel lighter once I’d watched it. If I’m feeling a bit low, it’s still one of the films I turn to if I need a pick-me-up. Plus, the soundtrack is wonderful, ridiculously catchy and full of heart. I’ll be in line for tickets to the Broadway show when that finally happens too!
Paddington 2 (2017)
In the same way that The Greatest Showman brings a smile to my face as I watch it, the same is absolutely true for Paddington 2. I enjoyed both Paddington films, but it had to be the sequel on this list for the added joy of Hugh Grant! For those unfamiliar (surely there can’t be many of you), Paddington is a bear that lives with the Brown family in London (voiced by Ben Whishaw), who loves marmalade sandwiches and in this film gets caught up with the theft of an antique pop-up book and the treacherous antics of an ex-actor with a huge ego (played by Grant), trying to track down hidden treasure. It’s just such a wonderful family film, that deserved far more awards recognition.
So, those are my film highlights of the year. They are personal to me and each one brings back memories that make them special. Hopefully the next decade will bring many more wonderful films too!
I’ve reflected on my theatregoing over the decade and before I look ahead to 2020, I wanted to look back at some of the fantastic television that appeared on my screen over the last 10 years.
For me, there was so much to enjoy and with the ever growing platforms, seeing everything is now just impossible and therefore I’m fully aware that my list probably won’t include some shows that you may think should have been included, so let me know what yours were. I might not even have watched them!
1. Suits (2011 – 2019)
There really could only be one show at the top of my list. Not only was Suits a series that I’ve found entertaining and engaging since 2011 when it first appeared on Dave (that’s a channel here in the UK), before later moving to Netflix, it also provided me with some of my favourite television characters and relationships of the last ten years too. For me to truly invest in a series, especially over 8 seasons, I need to care about the characters and Suits certainly provided so many characters to root for. Whether it was quirky Louis Litt, who you couldn’t stand and then loved, the complex emotional development of Harvey Specter, the bromance of him and protege Mike Ross, or the force that was Jessica Pearson, the determination of paralegal Rachel Zane, or the fabulous Donna Paulsen, whose self-confidence saw her soar, there was a character for every viewer.
Then of course there was Darvey. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know how much I loved the Donna and Harvey dynamic, making it my favourite on screen relationship (sorry Mulder & Scully). Not only all of this, but thanks to Suits and the positive aspects of social media, I’ve made some wonderful friends through the series, as well as it providing an excuse for some Toronto holidays. You were fabulous Suits. You’ll be missed.
2. Game of Thrones (2011 – 2019)
I know so many people have declared the entire of Game of Thrones trash now, due to their annoyance at season eight and that’s fair enough, but for me, it’ll remain one of the best television series created and remains a favourite. Yes, season 8 was rushed. The story strands needed a few more episodes to breathe in the way they did in earlier years, but I genuinely didn’t hate any of it and mostly expected the conclusions that occurred, with the final episode not proving a let down for me (I’ve had that feeling with shows I’ve loved, so I feel for anyone who felt that way).
Crucially, I still view the series as a whole and in doing so simply see a series that brought wonderful characters to life, whether good or dreadfully unpleasant, or somewhere in between, by a superb ensemble of actors. With such a vast story to tell, any weak acting links would have damaged the series as a whole, which thankfully didn’t happen. Visually it was gorgeous (I would still happily pay to watch it on a big screen) and the accompanying score, especially in later years, was an extra character of the series. Lastly, it raised the audience expectation of what television should be and therefore helped raised the quality of television as a result.
3. Sherlock (2010 – 2017?)
They may be starting off 2020 with a new adaptation of a classic on BBC One, but its’s the first joint effort by Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss, which started in the summer of 2010, that I wanted to talk about now. Sherlock was another series that helped change television. It was clever, exciting, engaging and with two such superb lead performances from Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, we shouldn’t be surprised how successful it (and its actors) have become. Yes, for me, the last series wasn’t as strong as previous ones (and certainly not the level reached by season 2), but it remained a must-watch drama that surpassed a lot of the competition. It might be back one day. I certainly hope so.
4. Line of Duty (2012 – present)
Bodyguard may have exploded in the US, earning recognition at the television awards, but it was Jed Mercurio’s first series that was unmissable viewing over the decade. Late to the party, I caught up as series two started and the interest began to grow following that shocker of a season two opener and I’ve been hooked ever since. Yes, series 3 was the pinnacle for me and those seasons since haven’t quite been as impressive, or as unpredictable, but Line of Duty is still one of the best dramas on television. Not only is the core team of Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar always brilliant, but the guest casts have provided some of the highlights of the decade, especially Keeley Hawes and Craig Parkinson. Roll on season 6!
5. Succession (2018 – present)
Having missed Succession last year, I finally joined the fan club this year, after a number of friends told me I was missing out. They were certainly correct about that, with the series providing some of the finest written and acted scripts on television at the moment. The fact the writing team includes a few playwrights doesn’t surprise me, with certain scenes feeling as if they are part of a stage play. Also, it’s very rare that a series only gets better and better, but that’s true of Succession, with its second series standing out as some of the best television I’ve seen. Its ensemble is also another big strength – Brian Cox, Jeremy Strong (who is being criminally overlooked by the awards), Kieran Culkin, Sarah Snook, Matthew Macfadyen and Nicholas Braun all bring such life to these characters, as do the other supporting cast. Yes, I may not like many of them, but I love watching them. Hurry up series 3!
6. Broadchurch (2013 – 2017)
Olivia Colman may now be an Oscar winning superstar, but my favourite performance of hers of this decade is easily that of Ellie Miller in Broadchurch, alongside David Tennant. From the moment I saw episode one at a preview screening, I suspected this was going to be a very promising series and indeed series one went on to become a national talking point for weeks. The story of the murder of a young boy in a picturesque seaside town, it was tense (heightened by the superbly atmospheric score), emotional and yet still found moments for lightness, mainly thanks to the dynamic between Tennant and Colman. Later seasons may not have been as popular, but I enjoyed each series and was very sad to see it end.
7. Parade’s End (2012)
A second series for Benedict Cumberbatch on my list is Parade’s End, the five part series, adapted by Tom Stoppard, that aired on the BBC (and HBO in the USA) and his role of Christopher Tietjens is, in my opinion, in some respects better than his work on Sherlock. It was such a moving and powerful story, anchored by Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hill and Adelaide Clemens, telling the story of three people whose lives have such a significant impact on each other and are all affected by the First World War, especially Tietjens. Beautifully shot, this adaptation of a book I have struggled to try and read in the past, is a series I continue to return to every so often.
8. The Crown (2016 – present)
I’ve already spoken about the quality of television upping its game over the decade and another example of a series whose quality would in the past have been reserved for the big screen, is The Crown. Chronicling the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II, it impressed me right from the start (with its first two episodes remaining some of the best television of the decade for me). The production values are crazy on this series, whether the sets, costumes or score, everything is superb. Not only that, but without the talent of the original cast, including Claire Foy, Matt Smith. Vanessa Kirby, Jared Harris and John Lithgow, it was easy to forget this wasn’t real! Although I preferred the earlier years of the first two series, the third series (led by Olivia Colman) was still excellent television. Whether I’ll be able to sit through later seasons, as it delves in to the tragedies of the 1990s is yet to be seen, but The Crown was certainly a highlight of the last decade.
9. The Good Wife (2009 – 2016)
I admit that I didn’t love the last two seasons of The Good Wife, where I felt it lost its way a little, but it was still a firm favourite of the last ten years. This was an intelligent and engaging legal drama, during which we watched Alicia Florrick navigate a return to the legal profession after taking years away to raise her family, all for her husband to thank her by humiliating her on a national scale. Not only were the cases interesting, but the relationships of the characters kept me invested, as I rooted for Alicia to ditch her dreadful husband (Chris Noth) and pursue a relationship with colleague and old friend Will (the superb Josh Charles). Yet, my favourite relationship of The Good Wife? The friendship between Will and Diane (Christine Baranski). I loved them and could have watched them for years more.
10. The Hour (2011 – 2012)
I still don’t understand why the BBC stopped making The Hour after only two seasons. It was well received, won awards (including in the US at a time when this seemed less common) and had one of the finest casts of the time – Ben Whishaw, Romola Garai, Dominic West, Anna Chancellor all helped bring this series about a television news programme and its staff, set in the 1950s, to life. I know writer Abi Morgan has spoken in the past about her desire to return to the story, perhaps in a film and I still hold on to hope that we’ll see that one day.
11. Breaking Bad (2008 – 2013)
Yes, this series straddled two decades, but seeing as it only continued to get better and better, culminating in such an incredible final season, it had to be included on this list. A series fully deserving of all the acclaim it received, everything about Breaking Bad lives up to expectation – the writing, directorial choices and cinematography, combined with such phenomenal acting, doesn’t come around too often. Plus it ended perfectly. It may not be a show I’ll return to as often as others on this list, whose characters I loved more, but Breaking Bad was comfortably one of the best shows ever made for television.
So, those are my television choices of the last decade. It really has been an impressive period for the small screen. Hopefully the 2020’s will continue to maintain this level of quality!
Having just reflected on my top 10 shows of the year, as I do every year, I couldn’t start a new decade without looking back on my favourite shows, performances and moments in theatre over the last ten years.
Although I’d been a theatregoer prior to 2010 and had started to go to more shows the year before, it was the start of 2010 when I think I can officially say that I became a regular theatregoer, seeing more shows that year than I ever had in other years. From then on, it truly became a passion and the more I immersed myself in theatre, the more I realised just how much there was to see!
So, starting with the numbers, for those curious about such details, over the decade I visited theatres 732 times, seeing 596 shows (and seeing 67 of those shows more than once). My total includes 75 musicals and 2 walk outs at the interval (and a few I wish had had an interval so I could escape!). The show I saw the most times was the RSC’s Richard II, with David Tennant in the title role (although I’ll keep the number I times I saw it to myself)!
It’s been an incredible decade for theatre and looking back on it for my blog has been a fantastic experience, bringing back memories I’d not thought about in some time.
So, let’s start with my favourite shows of the decade. I considered picking one from each year, but that felt wrong, as some years offered better shows than others and a top 10 should be a top 10!
Top 10 Shows of the Decade!
1. After The Dance (National Theatre, 2010)
Despite the years of theatre that followed it, I’ve known for some time that the top of this list would almost certainly be the National Theatre’s 2010 production of Terence Rattigan’s After The Dance. Where do I even start with this production? There’s so much to say (so I’ll direct you to my previous writings on it), but ultimately it takes first place because it was one of the first productions I saw that truly affected me.
I will never forget crying as Nancy Carroll struggled on stage to hold back her pain from the husband she was too afraid to tell she loved, after years of their marriage carrying on as if a playful game. Carroll was the reason I’d booked to see the show and yet it also introduced me to actors who have since become firm favourites – John Heffernan, Adrian Scarborough and Benedict Cumberbatch (who was on the cusp of fame, with Sherlock airing during the run of the show).
It was beautifully acted, Thea Sharrock’s directorial choices truly drew out the heart of each scene and the set (an expensive London living room in the pre-war 1930s) was one I wanted to move in to. Having adored it, there was no other option but to queue for day seats for the final performance, seeing me outside the theatre at 6 a.m. and being rewarded with the last pair of front row stalls tickets. A combination of a superb, unforgettable show and some special personal memories mean this will likely be at the top of my lists for years to come.
2. Hamlet (Almeida Theatre / Harold Pinter Theatre, 2017)
The end of the last decade was crucial in showing me that Shakespeare could be far more enjoyable than I’d ever found it while at school and that was all down to my first Hamlet at the RSC with David Tennant. As I saw more Hamlets, none could match it for the quality of production and overall ensemble (having just a great Hamlet isn’t enough for me).
That was until I saw Robert Icke’s production at the Almeida in 2017 (which later thankfully transferred to the West End for further visits). Why was it so special? It took a play I am very familiar with and played with certain scenes in new, exciting, refreshing ways, resulting in me seeing certain actions and characters in a different light. I’ve written plenty on this before, but it’s simple changes to the final duel, which paint Laertes in a totally differently light is just one example. As with the 2008/2009 RSC production, the ensemble was also strong. Yes, it had a big name lead in Andrew Scott, but he didn’t carry the show. It wasn’t all about him and that strengthened the piece as a whole. Add in the fact its final moments remain some of my favourite minutes I’ve ever experienced in a theatre and this show had to be in second place.
3. Groundhog Day (Old Vic, 2017)
I’m fussy when it comes to musicals. Some are perfectly enjoyable, but don’t stay in my mind and for me, I need the songs to be memorable and serve a purpose for the story. As I’ve already said above, I’ve seen a fair few in the last decade, but the one that I think on the most fondly and which I’d still be booking to see monthly were it still here in London, is Groundhog Day.
I admit, I thought I’d hate it, having not been a fan of the film, but having loved Matilda and with Tim Minchin attached, it was enough to draw me to the Old Vic. As my reviews at the time explained in much more detail (you can read here and here), this was an unexpected gem for me. It was a musical that made me happy. It was funny, moving and ultimately hopeful. The music and lyrics from Minchin were both clever and perfect for the show and Andy Karl’s leading performance was a highlight too. The fact it was here for so short a time, before heading to NYC where it wasn’t really appreciated, will always frustrate me. Maybe it’ll be back one day. I hope so.
4. The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre, 2018 / 2019)
Few theatre experiences have affected me as profoundly as The Inheritance. Over the course of its two parts and 7+ hours, I was completely absorbed in the characters in front of me, similar to when I’m pulled in to a good book. The use of Howard’s End and indeed its author, to help tell a multi-generational story, weaving the past and the present together, while also asking some important questions about community, resulted in this being a play that I found hard to forget. I’ve never cried as much in a theatre as I did during this story and the performances by its cast were superb. Having recently seen the Broadway transfer in NYC, I still prefer the London ensemble, but the emotional power of this play remained as strong as it was the first time. An unforgettable theatre experience.
5. Hello / Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre, 2015)
This is perhaps going to be a surprise for some people. It wasn’t a big West End show, or one that drew lots of attention, but it struck a chord with me and has stayed with me over the last five years. Its story of a couple, moving through their relationship from the first meeting, through their romance, to more difficult painful times, felt very real and Shaun Evans and Miranda Raison ensured that you felt connected to their characters. I cared about them and wanted them to come out the other side together and on each of the three times that I saw it, its story brought a tear (or two) to my eye. You can read my original review here.
6. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre, 2014)
A second show on the list for the Almeida (which has seen some truly superb productions on its stage this decade, especially since Rupert Goold took over) and one by a favourite contemporary playwright of mine, Mike Bartlett. This was another show that I first went to see having no idea quite what to expect. Could a play looking in to a possible future reign of Prince Charles really work?
The answer for me was yes and Bartlett’s decision to write the play in the style of a Shakespeare History play was inspired. The future set in the style of the past, added to the authenticity of the play as a whole. It also posed some interesting questions about the role of the monarch and the dynamic between them and the government. Yes, a certain ghost did make me cringe, but a Shakespeare-style play needs one and other than that it didn’t feel like a soap opera and some of the scenes were incredibly compelling, thanks to strong performances led by the late Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, and Lydia Wilson. I wasn’t as big a fan of the BBC adaptation, but at least it means this show has been preserved in a form that I can have on my shelf at home! You can read my original review of the show here and of the BBC adaptation here.
7. Richard II (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre; Barbican Theatre & BAM, NYC, 2013 & 2016)
I’ve seen a fair few Shakespeare productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company over the last ten years, but my favourite is Richard II, which I first saw in 2013 and then again (with a couple of cast changes) when it returned as part of the King & Country cycle in 2016. Yes, I am a huge David Tennant fan, especially his stage work and will always be enthusiastic about such productions, but interestingly, I didn’t love Richard II immediately. It took a bit of time for the ensemble (and indeed Tennant himself) to find its feet and really start to impress. Yet, by the end of each run, impress me it did.
Bringing RSC veterans such as Oliver Ford Davies and Jane Lapotaire together with young upcoming talents, was thrilling to watch, with the performances of first Oli Rix in 2013 and then Sam Marks in 2016 in the role of Aumerle truly standing out. Their characters’ relationship with Richard, strengthened by their chemistry with Tennant, resulted in another theatre highlight of this decade – the simply beautiful Flint Castle scene. I’ll never forget it and thankfully, with the release of the DVD, I at least can experience one version of this any time I want. You can read my original reviews here and here and also my review of the superb understudy performance in which Oli Rix played Richard II here.
8. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic, 2014 & St. Ann’s Warehouse, NYC, 2016)
Another highlight of the decade has to be the Young Vic’s production of Tennessee William’s play, which I was lucky enough to see again two years later in Brooklyn. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, or has read this blog in the past, that the big draw of this for me was Gillian Anderson, an actress I admired throughout my teens and beyond due to The X-Files.
Thankfully she regularly appears on the stage here, but it is her role as Blanche DuBois in Benedict Andrew’s production that raised her to the next level for me. It was a towering performance. Yet, Anderson wasn’t the only strength here, as the cast also included another longstanding stage favourite of mine, Vanessa Kirby, whose star continues to rise following her portrayal of Princess Margaret in The Crown and Ben Foster as Stanley Kowalski. You can read my original review here.
9. Once (Phoenix Theatre, 2014)
Once is another musical that I loved from the minute I first saw it. It almost doesn’t feel like a musical, but a love story that happens to have songs thrown in. Based on the film of the same name, I actually think the show is better (which doesn’t happen often), adding depth to the characters, the story and the world in which it is set and the pairing of Zrinka Cvitesic and Arthur Darvill truly brought it to life in a beautiful way. I’m still sad this show is no longer in the West End. You can read my original review here.
10. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s Theatre, 2011)
The last entry on my list is another Shakespeare starring Mr Tennant and that’s Much Ado About Nothing. Yes, I know many didn’t enjoy this, finding the setting a bit naff, but honestly, I loved it every single time. Bringing Tennant together with Catherine Tate, with whom he already had such a strong acting chemistry resulted in a great deal of fun for both the actors and the audience. They bounced off each other wonderfully in the roles of Beatrice and Benedict, bringing a smile to my face, while the soundtrack left me humming long after I’d left the theatre (and always makes me smile when it pops up on my playlist shuffle). Throw in some other entertaining performances, particularly from Adam James (still my favourite Don Pedro) and this show helped my through some personal ups and downs in 2011 and I will always remember it very fondly.
My Favourite Actors of the Decade!
There have been so many wonderful performances over the last ten years, from actors I’ve long admired, to newcomers who, over the decade, have gone on to wider recognition. It’s always fun to be able to say you were aware of them before they were famous! Which actors were favourites this decade? There are certainly a few that I’ll book to see in anything.
Top of that list is Andrew Scott. He may now be famous as the Hot Priest, but it’s also been a busy decade of stage roles for Andrew Scott and I’m fortunate to have been able to see all eight of them! The variety of production and role perfectly highlight his versatility and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve seen so far. I can’t wait to see what he’ll choose next.
Another “must-book to see” actor ever since 2010’s After The Dance is John Heffernan who has tackled everything from monarchs, to physicists and I’ll watch him in anything. David Tennant will always hold a special place in my heart, as the actor who helped me to see how wonderful and accessible Shakespeare can be and seeing him on stage will always be an event for me. Jamie Parker is another favourite actor of mine, who seems able to take on anything – musicals; plays; Shakespeare, as well as making me a Harry Potter fan! Benedict Cumberbatch is now a worldwide star, but he’s been on this list ever since After The Dance blew me away a decade ago. He was superb in both roles in Frankenstein and was the main strength of his Hamlet. Hopefully screen roles won’t keep him off the stage for too long.
It’s not just the men on the must-book list of course. I’ll be in the theatre for anything Imelda Staunton appears in, after 3 incredible musical theatre performances and one play this decade and thankfully she’s back in 2020 (see my post of tips for 2020). As I’ve already mentioned, I adore Gillian Anderson and she’s a superb stage actress and I feel lucky that she still continues to regularly return to the theatre. Following After The Dance (now you see why it’s at no.1!), Nancy Carroll is another name I look for when booking shows. She’s wonderful in absolutely everything. Vanessa Kirby is a great example of an actress I’ve admired for years, who is now getting the wider recognition she deserves and I look forward to her next stage appearance.
Stand Out Performances of the Decade
The decade has also seen me have a chance to witness some truly remarkable performances / roles, which have stood out from the rest. These are just some of the highlights.
Ben Platt – I’ve only seen him on stage in one role so far, but it’s easily one of the highlights of the decade for me. That role was Evan in Dear Evan Hansen in 2017 and he was so astonishing I booked to go back on a later trip to NYC.
Andy Karl – The fact that I so loved 2016’s Groundhog Day is in large part due to Andy Karl’s performance as irritating weatherman Phil Connors, who you can’t help but love by the end. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow in 2011 was simply astonishing. The voice, the emotion, the physicality. She became her character so completely.
Lia Williams’s compelling performance in 2015’s Oresteia was a night in the theatre that stayed with me for a long time afterwards. She’s taking it to NYC in 2020 too, so go if you can!
Bertie Carvel – another superb actor, but as the original Miss Trunchball in the RSC’s Matilda in 2010/2011, he set the tone for that role.
Anthony Boyle was another example of an actor creating a blueprint for a role. His superb performance as the original Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child was the first subject my friends and I talked about after leaving the theatre.
Cynthia Erivo thankfully transferred to NYC with The Color Purple, which meant I had a second chance to catch it and she was even better than I’d imagined.
David Dawson’s performance in The Dazzle is another performance that I’ve not been able to forget. Both he and Andrew Scott were superb, but for me, Dawson was the emotional heart of the show.
Memorable Moments of the Decade!
Before I start looking towards 2020’s theatre offerings, I also wanted to mention just a few of my memorable theatre moments of decade. Most happened on stage, but a few are personal to me.
A superb food fight that I wanted to join, during Rules for Living at the National Theatre.
John Simm superbly using Hamlet’s speech about the stupidity of theatre audiences to show his displeasure about the man on the front row of The Crucible in Sheffield whose phone rang three times!
Some impressive sets including My Fair Lady in NYC, Design For Living, Treasure Island and the details of Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man and Sleep No More.
Sitting in a hotel suite bedroom watching Tobias Menzies’s impressive performance in The Fever, while Andrew Scott was sitting on a cushion at my feet!
Adam James’ unscripted antics during Much Ado About Nothing one night, causing him to chuckle so much, that he spat out his champagne all over David Tennant, as Adam stood behind him. Only those who’d been before truly appreciated how funny this was!
The sheer surreal experience that was the RSC/Wooster Group’s Troilus & Cressida. I still can’t quite believe I witnessed such a nightmare!
The day I spent 8 hours (there were breaks) as the entire text of The Great Gatsby was performed so magnificently during GATZ.
The Flint Castle scene from the RSC’s Richard II. It was truly magical every time.
Being reminded of the importance of cherishing the past thanks to Daniel Kitson’s Analog.Ue at the National Theatre.
The end scene of Part 1 of The Inheritance. I’ve never been quite so emotional in a theatre.
Having the chance to see so many admired actors perform, especially British greats such as Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and others from TV shows I’ve adored, such as Allison Janney; Richard Schiff; Elisabeth Moss; Josh Charles and Ben Whishaw.
I could go on, but I better not (is anyone still reading?!), so I’ll wrap up by saying that it’s been a wonderful decade for theatre and I look forward to many more memories from the next one!
It’s that time of year again and as life has got in the way in the last few months, this is also my first blog post in quite a while. Hopefully looking back at the year will kick start my blogging ready for next year, but as far as 2019 is concerned, I saw fewer shows than I usually do (blame life again), brining my final total to 48 productions (11 musicals, the rest plays), 4 of which I saw for a second time, resulting in 52 theatre visits in total, across 3 countries. The year also saw only my second walk out ever (sorry Top Girls at the National, but you just were not my type of show).
I’ll be reflecting on my favourite theatre of the decade in a separate post, but for now, these were my top 10 shows of 2019! Do let me know what yours were.
1. A German Life (Bridge Theatre)
This really could be a joint first place, but when seeing Dame Maggie Smith on stage in a play was at the top of my theatre bucket list and was something I never thought I’d be able to see, the Bridge Theatre’s announcement of this show made my year. Thankfully, it also lived up to my expectations on both visits (as you can’t just book one ticket for Maggie Smith!), as this was more than a monologue; this was Maggie Smith taking us inside one woman’s life, but also vividly in to the past of Nazi Germany which, by the end, presented some very stark warnings to us about the world we live in today and where we could find ourselves. I’d certainly love to see her on stage again, but if this is the only time, then I’m so so grateful I was able to see her.
2. Present Laughter (Old Vic)
Any announcement of Andrew Scott on the stage is cause for celebration in my view and I ended the decade seeing one of my favourite actors, on stage, at the very theatre where I first saw him, in Design For Living, back in 2010. I loved this production. Everything about it was wonderful; the superb cast, none of whom put a foot wrong, the gorgeous set design and costume and the fabulous music choices before and during the interval. It made me laugh, it made me tear up and I left the theatre both times with a big smile on my face and more than anything, it reinforced just how versatile Andrew Scott is as an actor, able to turn from over the top dramatics, to a vulnerable soul in moments. And the good news? It’s now an NT: Live production, which is just as enjoyable on a cinema screen.
3. Betrayal (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Betrayal is my favourite of Pinter’s plays and this production is my favourite so far. Each of Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox and Tom Hiddleston were excellent in conveying the complicated dynamics of the inter-relationships between these three characters and the simple set really helped in keeping the focus on the actors.
4. Death of a Salesman (Young Vic & Piccadilly Theatre)
Despite seeing a fair few Arthur Miller plays on stage, I’d never actually seen Death of a Salesman and I think I’ve likely been spoiled with my first experience thanks to the Young Vic’s production. Watching Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imaging, which changes the Loman family to a black family in New York, it’s honestly hard to imagine how this wasn’t the original intention. Led by the superb Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke, this was an incredibly powerful production, which stayed with me for a long time after both my visits to it. As it closes its West End run on 4th January, you still have a few days left to see it if you can.
5. The Watsons (Menier Chocolate Factory)
The fact I saw less shows this year may be why this is the first of two that appear on this year’s list, as well as last year’s one. It may though simply be because of just how damn good they were. Having first seen The Watsons in Chichester, I was thrilled when it arrived in London and with almost all of the same cast too. It’s hard to talk about this play without giving things away, but what I loved about it is that it’s not simply a typical Jane Austen story. It also speaks to what it’s like to write, to bring stories and characters to life on the page and I loved that so very much. The good news is The Watsons is getting a deserved West End run in 2020 and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
6. The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre & Barrymore Theater, NYC)
This play took the top spot on last year’s list and the final London performance was one of my first shows of 2019 too. Therefore, I couldn’t miss the chance to see it again when it transferred to Broadway, especially when all of my favourites from the London cast were going too. It was fascinating watching it in NYC and seeing which scenes evoked the strongest audience reactions (some I thought would, didn’t). The changes made since London (mainly to Part 2) were largely beneficial to the story and the experience of seeing The Inheritance proved to be just as powerful and emotional as it was in London (although, overall, I preferred the London cast). The show is still running in NYC, so if you have a chance to see it, it’s certainly worth your time.
7. Nine Night (Trafalgar Studios)
Most people saw this during its original National Theatre run last year, but after missing out due to work, I thankfully had a second chance to go once it transferred to the Trafalgar Studios. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nine Night, but it was so brilliantly written and performed and the lasting memory I have of it is how much I laughed and how much the audience loved it, creating such a wonderful atmosphere in the theatre.
8. All My Sons (Old Vic)
The second entry for the Old Vic on my list and another Arthur Miller classic. With such a strong cast, including the mighty Sally Field (and young British talents Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman), my expectations for this were high, but I wasn’t disappointed, as the play weaves through the complex relationship of a family touched by tragedy, before ending with a big emotional gut punch. I hope this isn’t the last time we see Sally Field on a London stage either.
9. Les Miserables In Concert (Gielgud Theatre)
I’ve always loved Les Miserables and every few years, I return to the theatre for a top up and in 2019 I saw both the show (before the original staging disappeared – why something unique to London had to go, I don’t know) and the staged concert performance next door. I’ve watched the anniversary DVDs, so knew what to expect from the experience, but the sheer power of the vocals during this concert couldn’t fail to impress, especially John Owen Jones as Valjean, able to convey the performance element, as well as the voice.
10. & Juliet (Shaftesbury Theatre)
My last choice for 2019 was a show I had no idea I’d enjoy as much as I did and that’s & Juliet, a musical that combined Shakespeare and some of my favourite songs from the 1990s! It may sound like an unlikely combination, but it really does work, in a story that asks what Juliet might have chosen to do, had she not killed herself at the end of Romeo & Juliet and tells this story with the help of the songbook of Max Martin (so, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Bon Jovi and more). The songs fit in such a clever and often funny way, that those in their 30s upwards in the audience started laughing after just a couple of bars of a track. It was an unexpectedly fun and entertaining night at the theatre, which had me reaching for my old CD collection when I got home!
So, that’s my list of my favourite theatre shows of 2019. Next year is already looking promising and I’ll be posting a list of tips for 2020 over the next few days too. As always, thanks for reading!
Well, as much as I didn’t want to get here, there’s no avoiding it. Wednesday night saw Suits fans around the globe spend one final episode with these characters, as they bid us farewell with One Last Con; an episode crammed with content that it’d be impossible for me to pick a favourite moment!
Suits has never been a legal drama to me. Sure, it’s set in a law firm, but the law has never been its focus and what pulled me in 8 years ago and has kept me coming back, season after season, was the relationships; how these work colleagues were so much more to one another; how they’d do anything for each other. That sense of loyalty, respect and love was Suits’ biggest hook for me and is the reason I feel so sad to say goodbye to this world. Few shows have a heart like Suits does.
I’m not quite ready to stop writing about the series yet, so expect a couple of reflective posts in the near future, but first, after writing about my favourite series since season 6B, it’s time to dive in to the detail, one last time……
Good riddance to Faye Richardson!
She’s gone! Finally! It’s a testament to the impact of the character of Faye that it feels as though she has been around a lot longer than ten episodes, but it was such a relief to finally see her ousted from a position making everyone’s lives miserable. Yes, when she arrived I quite liked her approach and she was right in everything she was saying.
Yet, as the season went on, she became more and more of a villain, seemingly enjoying all the hurt she was causing. Also, even when she’d witnessed first hand the morals of this family and how they cared about people and weren’t as ruthless as she claimed (when they chose not to hand her in to the Bar so it wouldn’t hurt her daughter), she still seemed hellbent on seeing things as black and white. I mean did she seriously call Harvey a snake oil salesman this week?! That’s so far from who he is, it made me want to throw something at my screen.
In Suits style, the team banded together to try and finally come out on top against Faye, first in court and then through the One Last Con of the title, which saw Harvey, Mike, Donna, Louis, Alex, Samantha, Katrina and Gretchen join together to try and force her out, admittedly using the very methods that she was there to put an end to! The staged conference room scene was great fun, especially when Samantha punched Harvey and Donna’s supposedly shocked reaction to it! Plus, seeing Gretchen (Aloma Wright has always been fabulous in this role) so enthusiastically getting behind the plan was fun too.
Yet, in the end, the only way to save the firm was for Harvey to fall on his sword for the good of his work family. I admit, I’d been worried about this, that the show would end with Harvey leaving in disgrace, so it was at least a relief to see that he left on his own terms, while also finally sacrificing something for those he loves. It was his turn, after all. Mike went to jail, Jessica and Robert lost their licences. Heck, even Donna once lost her job doing something that has since been used to try and tarnish her character, in order to protect him. It made sense that before the series ended, Harvey would finally do something for the firm, guaranteeing Faye was out, Louis gets his title back and Samantha and Katrina get to return. I’m just pleased he was happy with that choice (more on Harvey later).
Finally a happy (if somewhat bittersweet) ending for Louis Litt
We’ve certainly been on quite a journey with Louis, but I’ll save that for my reflective post. For now, I’ll say it was lovely to see him finally happy after all his ups and downs and 9.10 saw him get married, become a father to a gorgeous little girl (welcome to the world Lucy Litt!) and regain his title as managing partner.
It’s funny, but a few years ago I’d never have imagined him as someone capable of being the calming head of the firm, but in recent years he really proved that he was capable of such a role and I’m pretty confident that the future for Litt Wheeler Williams Bennett is bright. Plus, after all the jokes over the years about his name coming last on the firm’s name, Litt no longer comes last! Litt comes first and seeing him standing by the new name on the wall was quite lovely.
Yet, the end was bittersweet for him too, perhaps more so than for Harvey and Donna, as despite all he gained this week, Louis also had to accept he was losing his two closest friends and the scene in which he hears that news made me cry, for all of them (actors included), but especially Louis and Rick Hoffman really nailed his sense of loss here (especially as this episode had also seen these three acknowledging how they were the last left from Pearson Hardman), as Hoffman also did as Louis stared at the new firm name, with a mix of pride and sadness on his face.
Thankfully, Louis being Louis, we were still treated to some comedic moments in the finale. Seeing Harvey wind him up at the top of the aisle was classic Suits (Mr Peanut! You’re not the Prince of England – I see what you did there Mr Korsh)! The washing your back comment to Stan and his continued nutty relationship with Rachael Harris’ Sheila. There was a little bit of everything. Plus the Cinderella moment during the brief ceremony cracked me up. And that’s the beauty of Louis Litt – he can make you laugh and cry (I mean who didn’t, when he was told he had a daughter?!) in mere minutes. Rick Hoffman has helped create such a uniquely quirky character and I’ll miss him dearly.
Katrina gets a promotion as the firm changes name…again!
I admit, I’d seen the spoiler online, so Katrina getting to be named partner didn’t come as a surprise, but it was still a wonderfully satisfying moment in the finale, recognising all her hard work and loyalty to the firm. With Katrina, Suits yet again demonstrated how good it was at developing its characters in an organic way that sometimes took them in directions we didn’t expect. I mean, Katrina was not hugely likeable in the beginning was she?! Yet, here we are at the end, cheering her on!
With Alex and Samantha by her side, great things are sure to be ahead. They have all become a work team in their own right this season, which has been lovely to watch, seeing Alex develops bonds with both women and Samantha and Katrina work side by side in 9.08. Dule Hill, Katherine Heigl and Amanda Schull have truly been a pleasure to watch (and maybe the firm’s name will actually stay the same for five years)!
……right, that covers everything doesn’t it? Oh wait…..I missed something……!
Congratulations to Mr & Mrs Paulsen Specter! The greatest television couple ever!
Well, again I knew this spoiler too (I honestly hope the Suits USA promo team apologised to Aaron Korsh for that huge blunder, revealing both Darvey’s possible engagement and marriage in their promo photos), but in a way, knowing it would have an ending I would love made watching the finale a little easier.
And did I still enjoy the conclusion to what is easily, in my opinion, the greatest television couple ever created (on the page and the screen)? Of course I did! I rarely say something was perfect on TV, but this storyline in 9.10 was the perfect way to have us leave Donna and Harvey. It didn’t feel like an end. It was the beginning of a new chapter that we simply won’t get to see.
Taking it step by step, we had that incredibly sexy scene when Harvey returned home after drinks with Mike! I mean, that was hot! Then there was the subtlety between them as the plan against Faye unfolded. It was clear to me what Harvey’s ace in the hole was (I knew his name was off the wall at the end too don’t forget) and knowing they talked it through as partners was a testament to their relationship. Don’t forget, the last time Harvey was planning to leave the firm when Jessica refused to back him for partner, he simply expected Donna to follow him. This week, as Harvey realised he had no other choice left, I loved the expression on Gabriel Macht’s face and also on Sarah Rafferty’s, as he glances to her and she gives a very small smile to say she’s with him, before he gave the smallest of nods back. Details like this make me long to see these two on stage too. I have no doubt they’d be fantastic.
And then there was a proposal AND a wedding! All in one episode! I admit, I’d always assumed the writers would put them together at the very end, something I’d have been frustrated by, when you have actors as talented as Sarah Rafferty and Gabriel Macht. I’m so pleased Aaron Korsh and the team were brave enough to go for it with season nine. Sure there will always be little things I still wish we’d got to see, but when you get so much more than you could have hoped for, then what can I really complain about?!
And 9.10 truly delivered for these characters and the fans who love them. We got to see them, yet again, walk down the aisle over another couple’s vows that seemed written to describe them, before we were treated to the most beautiful proposal I’ve watched on screen. It’s hard to pick just one scene in the finale, but I adored this proposal – the way Harvey said he loved her and had deep down always wanted to marry her, calling her beautiful (something fans have wanted ever since season 2, when he says it to Jessica and we, alongside Donna, for a minute thought he was talking to her), giving her the ring that was his grandmother’s (just like Mike!) and the way he asks, his tone dropping as he does so. I mean, it was simply perfect.
I’d have been satisfied by just a proposal, but yet we also had a beautiful wedding in a gorgeous setting, officiated by one of the best guest characters on Suits, Dr. Lipschitz (Ray Proscia, is now even cooler – he married Darvey!), with their vows tracing through so much of their history. Harvey talks about being a gambler, which was exactly the first image we had of him in the pilot and Donna highlights all the facets of their relationship – he’s made her laugh, cry, crazy, but crucially, happy. Let’s face it, there could never have been anyone else for these two and hearing Harvey say he wanted to dance with his wife with such joy, before seeing them happily dancing together in each other’s arms, something we’ve seen before, but now comfortable in knowing their future is together, was wonderfully acted and shot (bravo to first time director Aaron Korsh).
Yes, I’d have loved to see Jessica there, but I understand why that wasn’t able to happen due to Gina Torres’ Pearson publicity schedule, so I choose to believe she did call Harvey and / or Louis to give her thoughts on the last con and to wish them well. And as for Meghan Markle? Rachel not being there for Louis’ wedding felt stranger to me than Jessica not being there, due to their close bond, but we knew it’d never happen under the circumstances. We did at least have Wendell Pierce back one last time (and he still has the photo of her on his desk). I never expected to get everything.
That could have been enough of an end for them, but having them decide to leave to go and work alongside Mike and Rachel in Seattle felt like another natural progression. My biggest worry for the finale was seeing Harvey disgraced, or forced out and although they’d have maybe stayed had he not needed to play his ace in the hole, it didn’t feel forced, which was emphasised as they told Louis the news. Harvey looked excited and happy. As he said to Sean Cahill in 9.08, he’s good with what’s in his soul. Their involvement with Faye didn’t make him want to change who he is, but over time, largely thanks to Mike, he’s realised he could be using his skills to help those less able to help themselves.
Also, the Harvey of season nine is no longer the man who relishes ruling the world of New York law. I think he may have started realising this when he knew managing partner wasn’t for him in season 7, but it’s only now that he has more than work success in his life that he understands that his happiness lies in another direction. It’s less clear to me what Donna’s role will be. COO again? Maybe, or maybe she’ll support the new firm, while also exploring other avenues for herself, but she’s mentioned how much she misses Rachel a few times these last two seasons, so knowing they’ll be reunited is lovely. What we can be sure of is that these two have a happy future ahead (and maybe the scene of Donna holding little Lucy was a way of suggesting another possible event for them in time – honestly, them being with Louis to see his little girl, was a scene I never thought we’d get, but it was just gorgeous).
I’ve had my share of TV couples I’ve enjoyed watching and rooted for and one I dearly loved in a Mulder & Scully, but what Suits has proven with Donna and Harvey, is that you can shift a slow burn, to a relationship and continue to tell interesting stories, if you have strong writers / creators who care about their characters and talented actors like Rafferty and Macht, who bring them so vividly to life, that you feel as if you know them. I’m so grateful with how satisfying their resolution on the series was, but I’m so sad we won’t get to continue the journey with them. What isn’t in doubt though – they are the finest couple created for television and I’ll dearly miss spending time with them.
One last montage before we end with the foundation of Suits – Harvey Specter
The end of Suits. No matter how many times I watch this finale, if I haven’t teared up already, the last few minutes get to me every time. Harvey and Donna watching the everyday life of the firm continue in the bullpen. I didn’t need the reminder from Harvey to recognise the call back to Louis and Jessica in season five and it’s those little touches that help make Suits special, especially for those who’ve watched and rewatched since the show began.
Then there was the last scene for Mike & Harvey. I’m so pleased Mike came back for the end. I didn’t love him in 9.05, but the series couldn’t have ended without him (and Patrick J. Adams) and having him and Harvey hatch one last plan, have him get to witness the proposal and marriage of his friends after all his matchmaking efforts and then have him welcome Harvey on board the team in Seattle was so satisfying. And what better way than through an interview, mirroring exactly his first meeting with his mentor and friend. We know Mike has an incredible memory, but seeing Harvey remember too was lovely (and him admitting he wouldn’t know anything from the book made me chuckle).
And then the end. The last scene of Darvey in Harvey’s office and him saying how he couldn’t have done any of it without her. Knowing this was the last scene these two actors filmed together only added to the emotional impact of it for me. Then we saw Donna make a last walk through the halls, where she’s risen from Harvey’s secretary to COO, proving how important it is to believe in yourself, before leaving one last time with Louis (the elevator has seen many a moment between these two after all). It was such an emotional few minutes, until those elevator doors closed for the last time.
Yes, initially I was surprised her and Harvey didn’t leave together, but it made sense to give that final moment to the character who has been the centre of the series – Harvey. It’s been his journey, from a guarded, emotionally closed off man, to the man who now understands work success isn’t everything and that caring doesn’t make you weak, but strong. Seeing him spend his last few moments looking at his mother and the past he found so hard for so long, while letting the memories of the last nine seasons go through his mind was lovely. Some may dislike the montage, but it added to the nostalgia for me, although I did question including moments Harvey wouldn’t have witnessed, but hey, I’m nitpicking. Finally, what better end than Harvey picking up the never to be touched basketballs, glancing around his beloved office, before finishing a final scotch and striding out in to his new future. It was hugely emotional to watch and I think it always will be.
He’s the reason I fell for this series, due to his complexity as a character and what the writers and the incredibly talented Gabriel Macht have achieved over nine seasons is a feat few shows achieve. It’s probably the most satisfying character development I’ve ever watched and I say thank you to all involved in bringing him to life.
…….and I suppose that’s it. No looking ahead section. Yet, as I’ve already said, with such a satisfying, happy and hopeful finale, it almost doesn’t feel like the end. They’re continuing on somewhere and we can tag along in our imaginations. This series has seen me through many ups and downs since I started watching all those years ago (thanks to a friend who watched the pilot on a plane and told me this new series would be starting soon on UK television) and I’ll miss it very very much, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. It’s brought my comfort, escapism, laughter, tears and some incredible friends who I’d have never met without joining the show’s fandom.
It’s more than a show to those who helped make it and to those who’ve watched it – it’s a family and I’ll be forever grateful I was a part of it.
This week we’ve reached the penultimate episode of Suits. I hate that I’m having to write that sentence. I’m still a little in denial. Yet, before we look ahead to the finale, through episode 9.09 the writers and cast treated us to one of my favourite episodes of the season, if not the series, as the whole Suits family came together to try and rid themselves of Faye, while Harvey tried to deal with his grief, following 9.08’s heartbreaking loss.
Okay, let’s get in to the detail
Watching Harvey Specter grieve for his mother made everyone cry, right?
I maintain that Gabriel Macht doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his performance in Suits. He’s such a complex, richly textured character and this week truly highlighted how much he’s changed over the years, in large part due to him learning to let people in to his life and allow himself to be vulnerable and not see it as a weakness. Thunder Away also provided another storyline for Gabriel Macht to shine, as we watched Harvey try and come to terms with his mother’s death.
I was worried that with so little time left, it would be glossed over, either with a time jump of a few weeks, or by the need to move the story along, cutting short the time given to Harvey’s emotional state. Thankfully, writer Genevieve Sparling did a wonderful job of weaving Harvey’s pain through the storyline. Yes, there were moments he seemed his usual self, yet these were quickly followed by moments where his raw emotions caused him to lash out and struggle to hold himself together (poor Katrina was really in the wrong place at the wrong time). It was a very authentic portrayal of someone dealing with loss, which I’m sure many viewers could relate to and Macht delivered in each and every scene.
The heartbreaking eulogy at the funeral, where he reflected on how his mother had been there for him and how he wished he’d realised sooner, was so difficult to watch (especially as it also caused me to think back to the scene in The Painting when we saw him trying to deal with his father’s loss, as his mother gave the eulogy). Then there was the moment Harvey saw Mike standing at the back of the mourners, where gratitude mixed in with his grief in such a real way. The fact so many friends were there for him was so different from his father’s funeral too, again highlighting how he has let people in over the years. Then there was the moment he first looks in the envelope his brother gives to him. It’s such a delicate performance that not many actors could deliver so beautifully – the way he reacts to seeing what’s inside, trying not to break down while conveying to Marcus that he isn’t able to talk about it.
Let’s all hope that this is the last of the sadness for this wonderful character and as we know that he now has a ring in his pocket, it seems that he may finally be able to find some much deserved happiness.
……..which leads me to something that needed its own section!
Harvey has an engagement ring! I can’t quite believe it!
This is not a drill folks! Harvey Specter has an engagement ring for the woman he loves! I admit, I wasn’t sure what Darvey content we’d get this season, but I had been hoping for a proposal at the very least and now it looks like that’s a certainty for the finale!!
The moment Marcus gave him the envelope (it was so lovely to have Billy Miller back one more time), I knew what would be inside it and the scene in which Harvey read the last words he’d ever hear from his mother, while holding the ring she had hoped to pass on to him for the woman he loved, was so beautifully scripted and acted. Yet again, Gabriel Macht gave a performance that was so relatable, as sadness, mixed with a smile on knowing how much Lily wanted to meet his someone special, passed across his face in those few seconds. Plus, I appreciated the acknowledgement by the script of the fans’ excitement at the thought of seeing Donna meet Lily, through Harvey telling his brother they’d been making plans, combined with his mother’s own words. It made the fact we were never able to enjoy this moment a little easier to bear.
The Harvey / Louis relationship continues to be one of the highlights of Suits for me
I’ve said in previous reviews how much I love the evolution of Harvey’s relationship with Louis. We’ve been through so many ups and downs with them and yet this week, we reached the moment Louis Litt had been waiting for – for Harvey to acknowledge that he loves him. In a way, my reaction was similar to Louis’s. As Harvey declared Louis was someone he loved, I couldn’t stop smiling and Louis’s immediate reaction, looking up in surprise and joy was some superb acting by Rick Hoffman.
Scenes of these two together are always so loaded with history and 9.09’s moment in the bullpen was one of my favourites. There was humour, affection and even an attempt to quote movies (until Louis ran out of knowledge) and it was a scene in particular that reminded just how much I love these characters and how much I will miss them.
It was a tough week for Samantha, but her and Mike make quite a team!
Mike may have acted like a jerk in 9.05 (like Samantha, I too was raging when he called her second fiddle!), but I was thrilled he came to the funeral to lend his support to his friend, especially as the one person who understands what it’s like to lose both parents. Yet, that wasn’t all he was back for in 9.09, as he teamed up with Samantha to try and rid the Suits world of Faye Richardson, who has become more and more horrid as the weeks have passed. Having buried the hatchet, they certainly made a strong team and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one conflicted watching the court room scenes. I was rooting for them, while also knowing that Harvey and Louis winning would hopefully get Faye out once and for all (I still don’t totally trust Faye’s word though).
Having Harvey and Louis represent a woman they can’t stand, while also pitting them against their close friends (all while Harvey struggles to grieve) made for fantastic television. I had no idea where the episode would go and that kept the tension from start to end. Plus, having this follow on from the last couple of weeks, in which we’ve seen Samantha go on a road trip with Harvey and then support Louis when he needed to help his sister made it feel all the more cruel for her. Having seen her and Louis working together last week, it made his brutal attack on her in court all the more difficult to watch, yet also created some wonderful drama. I remember thinking how cruel Louis was during Donna’s mock trial in season 2, but he took that to a whole other level against Samantha.
Donna reminds Faye that no one hurts Harvey and gets away with it!
Donna was the instigator of the plot to try and remove Faye, determined to try and bring some stability back in to their lives, especially at a time when Harvey was coming to terms with such a profound loss. Not only that, but it was also Donna who reached out to Mike, knowing Harvey needed him and would clearly feel unable to ask while they were against each other in court. Yet, my favourite Donna moment this week had to be when she towered over Faye and let her know she’d be coming for her if she hurt Harvey. It was such a powerful moment between these two women and Sarah Rafferty nailed it!
Katrina makes a mistake that costs her everything
Out of all the main characters on Suits in season nine, Katrina has been the one least likely to cross lines. She’s been clear about the type of lawyer she wants to be and so it was difficult to see her crumble on being fired by Faye towards the end of the episode. After being unfairly kept out of the loop this week, it was Katrina who unknowingly made Louis and Harvey’s lives harder, by helping Mike and Samantha. Her actions were understandable. If I’d had to see Louis so cruelly go after Samantha in court, without any explanation as to why it was necessary, I’d have also felt the need to help. Yet, despite her honesty, Faye still refused to change her pattern of behaviour, instead firing yet another member of the firm. Now it’s two jobs they need to save next week!
So much nostalgia!
With two episodes left, I fully expected the Suits writers to start ramping up the nostalgia this week and I wasn’t disappointed. We had movie quotes, Harvey and Mike reflecting on the good old days, the duck painting proudly hanging in Harvey’s apartment, a reference to the can-opener, a reference to Louis’s mankini and the best one of all – Donna’s line about where it all began – Harvey taking on a fake lawyer!
Looking ahead – one last time….
I still can’t quite believe we’ve reached this point, as we wait for the finale of Suits and have one last opportunity to speculate about what might happen in the finale, which is named “One Last Con”.
First things first, I’m aware of the HUGE spoilers out in the world, but in case anyone reading this review isn’t aware of them, I’m not mentioning them! That seems fairer to me.
So that aside, what do we know? With all the personal storyline elements that need to be included in a satisfying way, I’m assuming the Faye storyline will be dealt with pretty quickly, although I’ve still no idea how that’ll conclude. Will Mike’s testimony somehow mean Samantha loses in court, but somehow keeps her reputation, allowing her to rejoin the team? And what’s the One Last Con of the title that Mike refers to in the promo? He isn’t in the loop on the deal with Faye, so is this personal in nature instead of work-related?
Faye out of the way, we have to cover Louis and Sheilas’s wedding, Harvey and Donna’s engagement, Katrina’s unemployment and the setting of the foundations for the future, so we know where our characters are likely going in their lives once they leave the screen. Will Donna and Harvey move to Seattle to join Mike and Rachel, as was raised in the last scene this week? Or maybe Boston to be closer to Marcus? Will we see Baby Litt? Will Jessica appear? Will Rachel appear? Okay, I know the last one is clearly not going to happen (no matter how much I’d love to just hear her voice on the phone)! Yes, the finale is confirmed to be a little longer in length, but that’s still a hell of a lot of plot to get through!
So far, season 9 has been one of the strongest of the series and I have all my fingers crossed that the writers have found a way to bring the series to a close in a satisfying way, that makes me laugh and cry. Let’s face it, I’m going to cry whatever happens – it’s the last episode of Suits for goodness sake!
I’ll see you all here in a few days for one last review. We can console each other!
The series finale of Suits, episode 9.10 “One Last Con” airs on Wednesday night in the USA on USA Network and will be available in the UK on Friday via Netflix. You can watch the promo here: https://youtu.be/RvUmWNJUiIA
(All screenshots thanks to Suits USA / USA Network)
I know I’m ridiculously late posting this review (so much so that 9.09 will follow not too far behind!). I blame a combination of a crazy period of work and my reluctance to acknowledge that we’re almost at the end of a series that is so very close to my heart.
After 9.07’s road trip, Prisoner’s Dilemma took us back to the familiar territory of Harvey Specter’s many enemies looking for payback and here it wasn’t just one, but the combined force of three such foes! It was an episode that reminded me how damn good Suits can be at the adversarial game-playing and even though you’re always 90% sure our Suits family will come out on top, watching the twists and turns is always so much fun. Yet, just as I was smiling along with Harvey at his latest victory, the worst possible news was around the corner, for him and the audience; news that I admit took the shine off the episode a little for me and took me quite a long time to get over.
We may as well start right there.
Another devastating loss for Harvey Specter that had me shouting at my television
Oh Harvey. Yes, he may have gloated to Faye Richardson at the start of the season that he’s the guy it always works out for, but these words seemed ominous to me then and just when I’d forgotten about them, the world turned upside down for Suits’s central character. As many know, I’m a great lover of angst and drama in storytelling, as the possibilities are so exciting, but I truly hated the choice to have Harvey lose his mother. It just seemed so unbearably cruel. They’d finally found peace and were starting to get to know each other again and there were all those moments we’d been hoping to see, in particular Lily meeting Donna. Sure, we had the phone call at the end of 9.04, but she met Paula (and inadvertently helped dismantle that disastrous relationship) and I’d been so looking forward to her possibly telling Donna about how Harvey had said how special she was.
Yet, it wasn’t to be. Seeing Donna’s face in the window (a beautiful shot from director Julian Holmes), my only question was, is it her parent or Lily? I still wish it had been one of Donna’s parents, as we could have still had the realisation for Darvey that life is short, but we’d have also seen Harvey support Donna emotionally for a change. Plus, I understood the parallels of Donna telling him of another death, but having Lily die in exactly the same way as his father and Donna telling him in almost the same way, felt a little lazy story-wise. Robbing Harvey (and also Donna) of years of being a family with his mother was a truly impactful gut punch at the end of 9.08, emphasising so tragically that even after the sweetest of victories, tragedy may not be far away. That all being said, Gabriel Macht is so superb in these moments of vulnerability and I was almost said the camera pulled away from his performance.
Not one, but three enemies from the past are determined to bring Harvey down!
This episode was also able to demonstrate just how strong a supporting cast Suits has built up over the years and had not one, but three of the shows best villains back in some way. Front and centre was Usman Ally as Andrew Malik. He’s already humiliated Donna in court, taken away Jessica’s license and tried to ruin Harvey and yet he was back to try once again. Personally I was thrilled to see him back, as he’s a character that truly stirs up trouble and tension in the best possible way and his scenes with Macht are always fizzing with animosity. Were Suits not ending, I’d have been certain we’d have seen him again in the future!
The same goes for Fortsman (played by Eric Roberts), whose history with Harvey is so deeply rooted that it’s fun to see what games he’s trying to play. Having these two team up, using the information from William Sutter (another member of the I Hate Harvey Specter club) made for such a fantastic storyline, especially when it meant that Neal McDonough’s Sean Cahill was also able to return. Another Suits favourite, he’s been involved in some of the shows most pivotal moments, especially surrounding Mike Ross’s release from prison and his and Harvey’s complex relationship was another dynamic on the screen in 9.08. Despite their differences, they can’t help but respect each other (even after Harvey punches Cahill in the face)!
In any other week, this would have been where the episode ended – Harvey dodging another bullet and now having someone waiting for him at home to celebrate with and although I couldn’t bear the decision to kill Lily, the juxtaposition between the fight to come out on top and the thrill of that success against the heartbreaking loss was very good drama.
Faye Richardson continues to become more and more detestable!
It’s funny, when she arrived at the start of the season I actually liked Faye. The way she marched in and shook the members of the firm by the scruff of their necks and let them know she wouldn’t take any crap was fun to watch and the undeniable truth was that she was totally in the right. Yet, despite that start, over the weeks, Faye has become very different, losing that veneer of fairness and in a way, like Malik, acting more as if she has a vendetta against our favourite work family. There was no reason to make Donna a secretary again and it was inappropriate and disrespectful to her professionally. Plus the way she seemed to take delight in publicly embarrassing people, or trying to undermine them. This week she seems on Team Malik, willingly taking action that could have cost Harvey his licence and seeing Donna’s confrontation with her in the bathroom was fantastic. I’m so intrigued to see how Faye exits the series. At one point I was sure it would be on a positive note, with her actually helping them, but that seems almost unimaginable now!
Suits bravely takes on one of the most important current events – the Me Too movement and succeeds
The lead plot in 9.08 was clearly Harvey’s run-in with Malik and co, but it wasn’t the only strong storyline in Prisoner’s Dilemma. While Donna and Alex were helping Harvey, Louis, Samantha and Katrina were helping Louis’s sister Esther finally get some form of justice against the former boss who assaulted her and was now seeking to take over the company she’d worked so hard to build up.
Everyone is aware of the Me Too movement and the determination to shine a light on the experiences so many women have had to endure during their lives; behaviour that until recently was seen by many to simply be a part of life. Times are indeed starting to change and I was thrilled to see Suits tackle this subject. Having met Esther before, we know how successful she is and having her need Louis’s help to protect her business meant we were able to see the impact of such an assault on a familiar character and also on Louis.
His reaction was totally understandable and Louis from seasons ago would have refused to even understand Esther’s reasons for not coming forward. Yet, Louis has grown over the years and was able to admit he’d made a mistake in how he’d handled the situation and then go on to fix it, with the help of Samantha and Katrina, which was a partnership I’d dearly love to have had more episodes to watch develop. I mean, that moment the two women confidently stride through those offices to take on such corrupt power was thrilling and had me smiling. No one messes with these women!! Well done Suits for taking this subject on and keeping it in the public consciousness. I hope more shows do the same.
Louis & Sheila – how many proposals is that now?!
Seriously, how many is it? Is it three? Or has there been more? I certainly feel as though there have been more, whether that’s true or not! Don’t get me wrong, I love Louis and I’ve always wanted to see him happy. Plus he went through such a tough time in season six (him sobbing in to Rachel’s arms broke my heart) and in to season seven, that he was due a change of fortune. My only grumble will be if the finale keeps the focus on Shouis – proposal, wedding, baby and we only get a few seconds of Harvey and Donna finding similar happiness. I guess we’ll find out next week how happy, or not, I am on this front!
No looking ahead this time!
Okay, as it’s taken me so long to post this review, I removed the looking ahead section, as you’ve no doubt all now seen 9.09. So instead, look out for my next review posting very shortly!!
Thanks as always for reading!
(All screenshots thanks to Suits USA / USA Network)