BAFTA Television Awards 2015 Predictions

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The film awards season has come to an end for another year, but here in the UK there is one significant awards ceremony yet to come and that’s the BAFTA Television Awards (now sponsored by House of Fraser). Nominations will be announced on Wednesday 8th April at 7:35 a.m. and afterwards I’ll update my blog with my thoughts on the inclusions and omissions this year. In advance, I thought I’d look back on 2014 and make my predictions as to which programmes and performances could be in the running.

First things first – the eligibility rules:

  • Programmes must have had their first transmission in the UK between 1 January and 31 December 2014 on terrestrial, cable, satellite or digital channels, including web based broadcasters who commission content (e.g. Netflix).
  • International programmes are only eligible in the International category, unless they are co- productions (both financially and creatively, and provided the first transmission was in the UK).

I tend to watch dramas more than comedies so my predictions will be for the drama categories only. I’ve also followed last year nominations format, assuming only four nominees will be included for each category. 2014 was an incredibly strong year for British television drama and it seems very likely that there will be some tough competition at this year’s ceremony.

Actor

This category is going to be a tough one this year, with a quite a number of performances worthy of acknowledgement. Here are my choices:

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1. Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock (BBC One)

I certainly hope Benedict Cumberbatch receives his third nomination for playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s international hit series, as it’s a performance which certainly deserves recognition by BAFTA. Heck, even the Emmys in America recognised his work for the role this year! On top of that, Benedict has yet to win a BAFTA, despite superb roles in 2004’s Hawking and 2012’s Parade’s End among others. I think it’s certainly time he picked up a statuette, but he has some very strong competition this year.

2. James Nesbitt – The Missing (BBC One)

Labelled as the new Broadchurch when it began, this emotional drama saw James Nesbitt playing a father desperate to find out what happened to his son. The performance has drawn a great deal of praise and it seems a safe bet that he’ll be in this year’s shortlist, as this was one of the most powerful performances last year and a brilliant effort by him.

3. Toby Jones – Marvellous (BBC Two)

Another wonderful performance of 2014 was Toby Jone’s work as Neil Baldwin, who despite learning difficulties, seemed able to turn his hand to anything. I’ve already seen chatter that he should win the BAFTA for the role and such an uplifting, true story, so strongly acted, seems bound to be included in this year’s list of nominees.

4. Richard Harrington – Hinterland (BBC Four)

I’ve yet to watch Hinterland, but everyone I know who has seen it raved about the series and Richard Harrington’s performance as DCI Tom Mathias, as did most of the critics in their round ups of 2014’s television highlights. BAFTA often includes nominees who may not have had as wide an audience as more recognisable ones, so I think he has a good chance.

I’ve also heard strong praise from friends about Philip Glenister in From There To Here, Micahel Palin in Remember Me and Reece Shearsmith in The Widower, so perhaps one of those will topple some of my choices.

Actress

My prediction is that this will be the hottest contested category of this year’s BAFTAs and looking back at those eligible only highlights just how many fantastic female performances there were on television, something I strongly hope continues. Here are my choices:

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1. Sarah Lancashire – Happy Valley (BBC One)

If Sarah Lancashire isn’t nominated I’ll eat my hat! Seriously, this was one of the finest performances in any drama series. As Catherine Cawood in Happy Valley, she was strong, kind, witty, compassionate, emotionally scarred and so much more, as she doggedly fought to bring her daughter’s rapist to justice and stop him harming anyone else. It’s definitely the finest performance of her career, which must surely be acknowledged by BAFTA.

2. Keeley Hawes – Line of Duty (BBC Two)

Keeley Hawes’s career goes from strength to strength and her performance in the second series of Line of Duty took it to a new level. DI Lindsay Denton was one of the most interesting and confusing characters on television last year and trying to decide on her guilt or innocence throughout was one of the most puzzling television mysteries. One minute you felt sorry for her, then you were certain she was behind everything and that’s all due to Keeley’s excellent performance.

3. Sheridan Smith – Cilla (ITV)

Another actress whose career is gaining pace and praise is that of Sheridan Smith, who seems able to turn her hand from comedy to drama, both on stage and screen, so easily. This three part drama about the early career of Cilla Black was wonderful viewing. Sheridan slipped in to the role of such an iconic British personality so effortlessly, able to carry off the drama and comedic moments, not to mention her superb voice, giving the drama an added layer of authenticity. After winning the National TV Award, she’s certainly in with a good chance of a nomination.

4. Gillian Anderson – The Fall (BBC Two)

One of my biggest gripes about 2014’s BAFTA nominations was the omission of Gillian Anderson for her performance in the BBC’s dark and disturbing crime drama The Fall. Like DI Denton in Line of Duty, Superintendent Stella Gibson is certainly an intriguing female character and Gillian’s performance continues to be fantastic. I hope she receives a nomination this time around.

Drama Series

It’s not going to come as a surprise that my choices for drama series reflect some of the impressive acting performances this year.

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1. Sherlock (BBC One)

Sherlock won the BAFTA for drama series after its first, superb series. I doubt it will win again for series three, which was a series that seemed to divide viewers. However, for me, it was still one of the strongest dramas on television during 2014 and therefore I hope to see it in the shortlist. It has also already won an Emmy for writing this year and so this could see it on the BAFTA list again too.

2. Happy Valley (BBC One)

It wasn’t just Sarah Lancashire’s stunning performance in Happy Valley that made it the success it was. Sally Wainwright’s drama had a gripping, excellently paced script, interesting characters and a strong ensemble cast, all of which contributed to its overall quality. There were many moments that had me practically holding my breath as I watched it and I’ll be stunned if it’s not nominated on Wednesday.

3. Line of Duty (BBC Two)

Jed Mercurio’s Line of Duty made a significant impact during series one and I did wonder whether series two would ever be as strong. I needn’t have worried about that! Series two kicked off as it meant to go on, with the end of the series opener becoming one of the most shocking and memorable moments of the year (for my others see my previous blog post). Through six episodes we followed every twist and turn of the depths of corruption and slight of hand (who can forget both their interview with Denton and then the interrogation scene of episode five?). It was a series that required you to truly pay attention and I am very much looking forward to series three.

4. Hinterland (BBC Four)

Hinterland is on my list of shows to catch up on after all the positive comments I’ve heard and read about it. Many have said its the Welsh answer to The Killing, which is incredibly high praise and in fact it’s now even been bought by Danish television! BAFTA likes to recognise a variety of programmes and I wouldn’t be surprised if Hinterland makes an appearance in the nominees list.

Supporting Actor

My choices for supporting actor are certainly varied, with loyal friends, soul mates and psychopaths making up my top four! In fact for me they brilliantly highlight how wonderfully varied drama can be.

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1. Martin Freeman – Sherlock (BBC One)

Martin Freeman is such a talented actor, recently recognised by the Emmys for his wonderful performance in Sherlock as series three reminded us all yet again that the series is about so much more than Benedict Cumberbatch. The series is so brilliant because of them both and these latest episodes allowed Martin to take the role of Watson to new emotional depths. He may not win (as he has already won for the role in 2011) but the scene above, in which he realises his friend is alive, which was so perfectly gauged, deserves a nomination in itself!

2. Aneurin Barnard – Cilla (ITV)

Sheridan Smith wasn’t the only strong performance in Cilla, and Welsh actor Aneurin Barnard did a fantastic job supporting her as Bobby Willis, the man who stood by her side throughout her career and whom she married in 1969. Their chemistry together was a treat to watch and I look forward to seeing what he will do next.

3. James Norton – Happy Valley (BBC One)

James Norton has quickly become one of my favourite actors and one on my must watch list, on stage and screen, ever since 2013’s Death Comes To Pemberley. He is certainly on the rise and 2014 saw him on screen in two very different roles, which demonstrate his range. I loved Grantchester on ITV, but think it’s unlikely his performance will achieve a best actor nomination. On the other hand, his performance as psychopath Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley was memorable for very different reasons. He was incredibly frightening and absolutely believable, as he roamed the Yorkshire countryside (the terrifying hit and run just one example) and Norton should without a doubt be on this year’s supporting actor shortlist.

4. Lars Mikkelsen – Sherlock (BBC One)

I have found it difficult to choose my fourth nominee for supporting actor, but seeing as there is precedent in the past for actors from the same series being pitted against each other (and even from Sherlock), I have included Lars Mikkelsen’s creepy turn as Charles Augustus Magnussen in the third series finale. He was a superb villain and only made more chillingly disturbing by Lars’s performance. You had no idea what he would do next, which made it riveting to watch. Everything from peeing in the fireplace, to flicking Watson’s face, simply because he could, made this a thoroughly memorable role.

Supporting Actress

Unlike the strong performances crying out for nomination in the leading actress category, I’ve found it much harder to decide on my predictions for supporting actress and at the moment I can only think of Joanne Froggatt. I dip in and out of Downton Abbey and tend to prefer the characters and acting of those below stairs, none more so than Jonanne Froggatt as Anna Bates. Every year she proves why she deserves some of the series’ most important story lines and her acting is always excellent. She deservedly won the Golden Globe this year for her performance and I think she has a good chance of a nomination here too.

As I’m struggling to think of anyone else to choose with any confidence in this category I’ll leave it at that and instead stick to trying to choose the winner once the nominations are announced on Wednesday.

International 

The international category is a hard one to predict. Won last year by Breaking Bad, I’m assuming it’ll be focussed on American and Nordic drama.

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1. House of Cards (Netflix)

House of Cards may have been beaten last year, but I’d say it has a strong chance of another nomination, with series two remaining my favourite of all three seasons made to date. Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright lead the drama with such class and its stylish and superbly plotted episodes have made it (and Netflix) hugely successful. They should nominate it for no other reason than not to make Frank Underwood angry!

2. True Detective (HBO)

I’m currently catching up with True Detective after missing it the first time around and I’ll admit I’m struggling with it. Three episodes in and I’m finding it incredibly slow and a bit dull. I’ve never been a fan of Matthew McConaughey either, but even I have to admit that both his and Woody Harrelson’s acting in the HBO series is very good indeed and for that reason alone I’m determined to continue with it. As it’s one of the American dramas that made almost every “best of 2014” list I read in December, I’m predicting it may receive a nomination from BAFTA too.

3. Fargo (FX)

The darkly comic Fargo is another strong contender for this year’s shortlist. The episodes are well-paced, with a perfect mix of tension and black humour and the acting by the cast, but by Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman in particular is fantastic. I’ll certainly be tuning in to series two. It did very well at this year’s Golden Globes and may do just as well at BAFTA.

4. The Good Wife (CBS)

I think it’s unlikely that BAFTA will select four nominees from America. However, as I have yet to see any of the latest Nordic offerings (usually the most likely to be recognised here), I can’t confidently choose any one of them. Therefore I’ve picked a series that I’d like to see nominated. The Good Wife is one of the few television series that gets better as it goes one. The last series of the show was utterly brilliant, taking many of the characters in directions the audience would never have imagined. It continues to be strongly acted by both its main and guest cast and has some of the best writing on television at the moment. It probably won’t be on the list, but it would be if I was choosing!

So those are my predictions. I’d love to hear what you think should be on the shortlist, for these or any other category. I’ll have a go at predicting the winners after the nominations are revealed on Wednesday!

UPDATE: Nominations are out and I’ve selected my winners here.

My 2014 Theatre Review

As 2014 is almost over, it’s time for my look back at my theatregoing year. I’ll start by saying it’s been far shorter than I’d have liked, as due to breaking my ankle, I’ve not been able to get to a theatre since August. As I try not to think about the productions I had to miss, I can at least look back at a nine months filled with some truly superb shows. In 2014, I managed to make it to 38 live productions, of which I returned to see 7 productions more than once, giving a total of 58 theatre trips. I also managed to tick another two productions off my archive list, by visiting the V&A archive to see the RSC’s 2011 production of Cardenio and the Royal Court’s 2007 production of Rhinoceros.

After much thought and in no particular order (apart from my number one, as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

Top 10 Favourites

1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)

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Photo: Johan Persson

Top of my list this year is the superb King Charles III, which I saw during its original run at the Almeida. I’m a big fan of both Mike Bartlett’s work (his recent play Bull made it on to last year’s list!) and Rupert Goold and found this to be a refreshingly new and exciting play (see my full review here). A bit of a slow burner, but as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett had chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also structuring it in the style of a Shakespearian History play! Filled with fantastic performances, particularly Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Adam James and Lydia Wilson, I loved that it dared to do something different and the ending was incredibly powerful. I must try and see the current cast at the Wyndams Theatre before it ends in January if I can.

2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Royal Court Upstairs in February for The Pass. However, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was something very special indeed. The Pass centres on two friends at the early start of their professional football careers and follows their different paths, while also superbly raising the issue of what it would be like to be in such a world and perhaps by unsure as to what you really wanted in life and what really will make you happy, sexually or otherwise. Russell Tovey was truly incredible as Jason and commanded the stage throughout.

3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)

A scene from Birdland
Photo: Tristram Kenton

More from the Royal Court, this time downstairs for Simon Stephens’s (whose Seawall topped last year’s list) new play Birdland. We are drawn in to the world of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore? Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage and he gave an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moved from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott was more than up to the task. The set was also very clever and I left the theatre feeling very excited at seeing something new and powerful (feel free to read my full review here).

4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)

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I’d always quite liked the sweet indie film Once and had been meaning to go and see the stage version. Unbelievably it took me over a year but I’m so pleased I made it this year, especially during the time of Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill. They were both utterly superb. Zrinka had been in Once in London since it opened and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. Try and see it if you can (my full review is here).

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche
Photo: Johan Persson

It’s been a fantastic year at the Young Vic and the two standout productions for me both make my top ten. First is Tennessee Williams’s classic production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. I’d never seen Streetcar before and this was certainly a superb production to start with. I loved the staging. As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective, voyeuristic quality too, due to the rotating stage. I’ve admired Gillian Anderson for years and she was absolutely incredible. She drew the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance (my full review is here).

6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Another incredibly powerful night at the Young Vic this year was for the stunning production of Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. Everything about this production was superb – the claustrophobic box set, the lighting, but above all the performances of the cast. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Eddie’s wife, who is growing ever more concerned about his attachment to their niece (also wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). However, the standout performance is by Mark Strong, who is breathtakingly intense as Eddie. It is such a nuanced performance, through which we really see the depths of his character and he is certainly one of the finest actors I have seen on stage. This production is transferring in to the West End next year, so make sure to grab a ticket fast.

7. The Crucible (Old Vic)

Richard Armitage's Proctor confronted by the sinister children of Salem.
Photo: Tristram Kenton

From the Young Vic, to the Old Vic up the road for another Arthur Miller classic (and another first for me – my full review is here). This superb production also stands out for me as it was the last production I was able to see before breaking my ankle! South African Director Yael Farber’s powerful production particularly benefited from the current configuration of the Old Vic stage. Playing such an intense story on a smaller stage, surrounded by the audience was an inspired decision. Its deeply atmospheric, sparse staging by Soutra Gilmour, the effective use of light and shadow by Tim Lutkin, mist-covered entrances and terrifyingly eerie music score by Richard Hammarton, are all enhanced greatly by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere created by having faces gathered all around the stage. Richard Armitage has an incredibly powerful presence on stage and you could not fail to be moved by his portrayal of Proctor, as he moves from moments of sorrow, to weakness, intense anger, rage and delicate emotional vulnerability.

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I thoroughly enjoyed Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, focusing on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. I found the scenes in which the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated incredibly absorbing and thought provoking and the performances of all five actors were excellent. However it was Shannon Tarbet as Avery who stole the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you couldn’t fail to like. A highlight I wasn’t expecting too much from before I went (my review is here).

9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I have owned Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels for a few years now and have never had time to read them. However I was thrilled to hear that Mantel herself was to adapt them, together with Mike Poulton for the RSC and what a brilliant production it was. I preferred Wolf Hall out of the two, but both this and Bring Up The Bodies were excellently acted, directed and conceived for the stage. On the smaller stage of the Swan, the plays seemed even grander, almost too big for the space, while keeping a wonderfully intimate feel. Ben Miles was utterly superb as Cromwell, who for each 3 hour production barely leaves the stage. I hope this finds just as much success on Broadway next year.

10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton) 

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Choosing a final production has proved quite difficult, with so much I’d enjoyed this year. In the end the top ten had to include Daniel Kitson’s latest part theatrical, part art installation show at the National Theatre as it was certainly a highlight for me and one which has stayed with me ever since. It was a unique story, which weaved together memories from the past with the present. It was incredibly moving and beautifully reminded me of the power of memory and how important memories of our past will be to us as we grow older or to those who come after us, offering them a glimpse in to a time long past. I even dug out an old recording of my grandparents, which I hadn’t listened to for years after seeing this. My full review is here.

Narrowly missing out on the Top 10

These are the productions that almost made it in to the top ten.

  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle (The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) – A quirky, comic and fun production from the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Having the grocer and his wife within the audience throughout is such a brilliant device, especially in such an intimate setting and truly engages the audience in a whole new way. You can read my full review here.
  • Richard III (Trafalgar Studios) – Martin Freeman’s intelligent Richard simmered with menace in another great Shakespeare adaptation from Jamie Lloyd.
  • Clarence Darrow (Old Vic) – Kevin Spacey was superb yet again as human rights lawyer Darrow in this impressive one-man show (see my review here)
  • 1984 (Almeida Theatre) – Another brilliant production for Rupert Goold’s theatre, as Headlong perfectly brought such an atmospheric and iconic book to the stage.
  • Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) – Another of the Bard’s plays ticked off my list in an engaging production with a strong cast led confidently by Tom Hiddleston.
  • Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre) – After missing it the first time around, I loved Adrian Lester’s passionate performance as Ira Aldridge (see my review here).

Wonderful repeats from previous years

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year, although this year there were only two, both of which were on last year’s top ten:

  • American Psycho (Almeida Theatre) – Rupert Goold’s first production in charge of the Almeida was a gloriously refreshing and exciting production, brilliantly led by Matt Smith. I still wish there had been a cast recording!
  • Richard II (RSC at Barbican Theatre) – This was certainly a production that grew over its run and by the time it reached London the cast were on fine form. David Tennant may not have been as strong as he was in Hamlet, but his Richard II was still wonderful to watch. Although for me, the stand out performance remains that of Oliver Rix as Aumerle.

Disappointments of the Year

  • A Small Family Business (Olivier, National Theatre) – Although there were some good performances, this play was too dated and dull for me and far too long.
  • Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre) – Although I enjoy seeing something that dares to be different, the third Act of Mr Burns was just too weird for me, making me wish I’d left after Act 2.
  • Slava’s Snowshow (Royal Festival Hall) – I was simply bored by this. Perhaps it’s more for kids.
  • The Mistress Contract (Royal Court Theatre) – Another production that was just a bit dull for me, despite two good performances.

Memorable moments in Theatre

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2014, which included:

 A West End return – Seeing Angela Lansbury’s return to the West End stage at the age of 88 in Blithe Spirit and from the front row for only a tenner too!

 Martin Freeman commits brutal murder – Just when Martin Freeman’s Richard III didn’t seem that frightening, he kills his wife by strangling her over a desk with a telephone cord! After watching him cruelly stalk her around the room, watching him finally kill her was very chilling (especially from my stage seat).

 Kevin Spacey captivating an audience – Watching how at home Kevin Spacey looked, sitting in an armchair, at the centre of the Old Vic, surrounded by a rapt audience.

– The thrill of a first preview – Attending the first performance of Birdland and being reminded yet again how incredible Andrew Scott is on stage.

 Discovering a new young talent – Discovering Shannon Tarbet in Rapture, Blister, Burn, who I’m excited to watch in lots more to come.

 Site specific theatre in gorgeous surroundings – Experiencing voyeuristic theatre at the Langham Hotel for The Hotel Plays.

 The thrill of knowing you’ve seen something new and utterly brilliant – By the end of my first trip to King Charles III (on the second preview), it was thrilling to feel the excitement of seeing a superb new play, especially by the time it reached the glorious last scene.

 Visiting a new, fantastic theatre – My first trip to the Park Theatre, a theatre I’m sure I’ll be visiting a great deal in the years to come.

 Saying an emotional farewell – Joining in the emotional applause at the final performance of Once for Arthur Darvill and Zrinka Vitesic from the front row.

 Enjoying phones being used in a theatre – Enjoying the quirk of actually using your mobile phone during a production at the Donmar for Privacy. I doubt I’ll ever think that again!

All in all it’s been a fantastic, if somewhat curtailed year of theatre for me, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2015 will bring (and I’ll post my top choices for 2015 soon)!

Film review – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014) – One last trip to Middle Earth!

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So, we have finally reached the end of our magical journey in to the world of Middle Earth as imagined by Peter Jackson. I was very excited to see this Hobbit finale – The Battle of the Five Armies, but this was also mixed with a feeling of sadness that this will be the last December when I can look forward to a new Peter Jackson/Tolkien film. After adoring all three Lord of the Rings films, An Unexpected Journey had felt a little underwhelming two years ago but I’d loved The Desolation of Smaug and so had high hopes that this final hurrah would be the pinnacle of a truly incredible filmic achievement that began over a decade ago.

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Smaug descends on Lake-town

The Battle of the Five Armies wastes no time in picking up where the last film ended, as Smaug sweeps in to Lake-town to wreak death and vengeance on the townsfolk. The sequences of the destruction of the town are incredibly impressive as the full power of the dragon is witnessed. There are also some wonderful human moments, as Stephen Fry’s horrid Master’s cowardly escape is contrasted with the bravery of Bard as he races to try and honour his ancestors in destroying Smaug. I admit I was a little surprised just how quickly this part of the story is tied up (don’t expect lots of dragon in the film) and I would’ve quite liked a bit more of Smaug than we get here. Benedict Cumberbatch is great again and the visual effects and artists involved in creating such a real and frightening creation should be very proud indeed.

Dragon dispensed with, the main thrust of this final film begins, as Thorin begins to be consumed by the “dragon sickness”, becoming more and more distrusting, dark and twisted by greed, as all forces in Middle Earth set their sights on the wealth of the mountain (both monetary and geographically). What is referred to in just a few pages in the third from last chapter of the book by Tolkien, the battle between the armies of elves, dwarves, men, orcs and eagles, becomes a hugely spectacular visual feast in the style we have grown accustomed to in Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth films.

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The forces of evil march on the Lonely Mountain

We see huge swathes of land covered in marching orcs and evil creatures and the graceful, fluid army of Thranduil, who seem to move as if one entity, as everything comes together at the base of the Lonely Mountain. It’s incredible to watch and an impressive combination of visual effects, live action and sound as we see the biggest battle of all six films unfold. However, for me, although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I did find myself missing some of the awe I had in 2002 and 2003 on seeing the Battle of Helms Deep and the Battle of Pelennor Fields for the first time. Perhaps I have become so used to Jackson’s spectacle and the high quality he achieves that it cannot quite stun me the way it used to. However I cannot imagine anyone else bringing such sequences to the screen.

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One of my favourite scenes – the fight at Dol Guldur

The vast amount of the film is based on the action sequences and battles and I felt there was a less emotional core than there had been in Desolation of Smaug. However there are some wonderful character moments throughout. Martin Freeman has grown in to the role of Bilbo as the films have gone along and his performance is a lovely one, as Bilbo witnesses Thorin’s dramatic change, feels the conflict of what best to do and steps up to show more bravery than he (or anyone else) ever thought him capable of and his last few scenes in the film are wonderful to see. Luke Evans is also fantastic as Bard, who becomes the inadvertent leader of the Lake-town survivors, showing bravery, honour and true leadership. He also has some brilliant stunts in the film (that made me think of both Aragorn and Legolas in the original trilogy).

Orlando Bloom’s Legolas feels a bit lacking for me. I loved him in Desolation, but a few of his fight scenes here felt a bit too ridiculous for me and can’t live up to those of a decade ago. Personally, I hadn’t really invested much in the love story between Tauriel and Kili, which still lacks something for me, but the actors play their scenes well and it’s fantastic to see Evangiline Lily fiercely taking on the orcs. Ian McKellen is, as usual, super as Gandalf the Grey and one of my favourite scenes of the whole film is at Dol Guldur, as we see Radagast, Elrond, Saruman and Galadriel come to his aid against the growing darkness of Sauron. I wish this thread of the story had been longer, as the scenes were exciting, impressive visually and incredibly dark and creepy, with superb performances, setting up what we know is to come in The Lord of the Rings.

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Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage)

Then there is Richard Armitage as Thorin, around whom the film is weaved, as we see him lose himself completely to greed and selfishness in the early part of the tale, which reminded me very much of Bernard Hill’s Theoden when under Sauron’s spell in The Two Towers. The scene in which Bard attempts a negotiation with him is beautifully framed through the hole in the gates of Erebor and Armitage gives a very theatrical performance throughout, particularly as Thorin disappears in to his mind, before regaining his sense of who he is and his honour and the character certainly needs an actor of his calibre to make him believable.

Throughout, the other character of Middle Earth is as glorious as ever and that’s Howard Shore’s iconic musical scoring, which perfectly captures all the moments of the film and add to the scale and emotion. It’s hard to imagine this world with any different soundtrack.

Overall, this film is a wonderful farewell to an adventure in Middle Earth that began for me, like many others, in December 2001. I’ll never forget how awestruck I was by the opening prologue to the Fellowship and the incredible cinematic moments that followed in the original trilogy. For me, The Hobbit, although a gorgeous piece of film, can’t quite match the mastery of The Lord of the Rings. However, The Battle of the Five Armies is a fitting end to Peter Jackson’s team’s work, in bringing more of Tolkien’s world to life. It has incredible battle sequences, while still hitting the emotional beats that make you care about the characters you have grown to know so well. Plus the ending is a perfect way to bring the films full circle and it made me want nothing more than to go home and watch The Fellowship of the Ring! Decembers certainly won’t be the same without these magical films and I’m very jealous of anyone who is yet to experience them for the first time!

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is now on general release in the UK and opens in the United States on 17 December and you can watch the trailer here.

Sherlock (BBC) – Happy 4th Anniversary to a British television triumph!

If we used the Doctor’s TARDIS and travelled back in time four years to 25 July 2010, we would find ourselves in a world in which the recognisable image of Sherlock Holmes was one of an older gentleman in Victorian London, driving through London in a Hackney cab through foggy streets. We would also be in a world in which only theatre enthusiasts and watchers of the odd BBC drama would have heard of a young actor with an unusual name.

What a difference a night makes! After 90 minutes of BBC1 drama on a summer’s evening (never an ideal time for a new series to start), the UK had a new obsession and the BBC had an instant hit on its hands. It has been referenced in numerous interviews how that night changed the lives and careers of those involved – none more so than its lead actors Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch and Benedict in particular.

The Sherlock gang
The Sherlock gang

In the four years since it began Sherlock has gone on to success few could have imagined. After 7.5 million watched A Study in Pink in 2010, its UK audience has grown impressively, with the series 3 opener drawing 12.7 million viewers and the third series overall becoming the UK’s most watched drama series since 2001 and the most requested drama on BBC iPlayer to date. This would all be incredible on its own, but Sherlock has also achieved international success (being sold to 224 countries in the last year) and critical respect, with a raft of award nominations and wins from BAFTAs to Emmys. It has one of the strongest and most loyal group of fans of any show, who have taken the series, its cast and crew to their hearts (mine included). It’s almost unbelievable to think all it has achieved in so short a time, raising the profiles of not just Martin and Benedict, but others from Andrew Scott and Louise Brealey to the team at Hartswood Films.

If any television series deserved to reach such heady heights its this one. The writing is superb, with each script zipping along with pace, intelligence, humour, heartfelt emotion, fun and action. The direction is inventive and exciting to watch. There are fews shows where the choices made by a director seem to jump off the screen. It’s beautifully lit by the director of photography, not to mention the costume departments success in creating one of the most iconic outfits on television (why on earth Balstaff discontinued that coat is beyond me!). Then of course there is the acting. It’s not just the leads that make Sherlock what it is, it’s everyone. The core supporting cast are wonderful, from Rupert Graves’s Lestrade, the lovely Louise Brealey as Molly and Una Stubbs as Mrs Hudson, to Amanda Abbington’s Mary Morstan, Andrew Scott and Mark Gatiss, not to mention all the guest stars that have added to the quality of each episode.

The Hartswood Films team

All these components work together seamlessly to make Sherlock a programme of the upmost quality in every respect. If only all dramas could be this good. Then again, if they were, it would lessen the joy and excitement at finding a new gem.

I now just need to decide on my order of these nine super episodes. That will be tough and deserves a separate post of its own! So as I watch A Study In Pink tonight, four years on from the first time, this post is a thank you to all those who have worked so hard to bring Sherlock to our screens. Long may it continue to shine!

Conversations with Screen Composers – Michael Price

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In association with BAFTA, the Royal Albert Hall continued its Conversations with Screen Composers series last night (31st March) with a wonderfully interesting and insightful chat with the lovely Michael Price, composer of both film and TV and of course now most notably Sherlock (which he scores with David Arnold). Over the course of two hours we learnt about his early career and how he came to write for the BBC’s phenomenally successful show. For those unable to attend I thought I’d provide an insight in to the evening in this blog.

The early days

Michael began by recalling his university days at the University of Surrey, at which he completed the Tonmeister degree (which combines elements of music, physics and maths) and how he had a wonderful university experience, making many friends that he still keeps in touch with today. He didn’t have a master plan for his career and it was touched upon that he was the first of the composers included in this series to complete this specific course, with others studying music in different degree forms.

After initially working in the sphere of contemporary dance, Michael went on to work with American screen composer Michael Kamen, whom he first came to work with on X-Men, quite randomly, after he began giving talks around the world for the creators of the leading music notation software Sibelius and his name was suggested when Mr Kamen was looking for a new assistant. Hilariously he was not the only person to be offered the job and Michael fondly recalled arriving on a Monday to start work only to find another person there too, James Brett, and how the two of them had plenty of time to bond seeing as Mr Kamen didn’t arrive for three and a half days! He continued to work for Kamen for five years on projects including the live Metallica concert S&M (Symphony & Metallica) and we were shown an amusing clip of a young Michael in the background of a docu-style behind the scenes film about this project. His final project with Kamen was the HBO series Band of Brothers and Michael commented how the producers were able to get something glorious from Kamen (I have always thought that the score for the series is very impressive indeed and compliments it perfectly). Michael spoke about Kamen’s improvisation during the process and how he and James Brett would tidy up the composition around the edges where necessary. He also noted that he felt this was the start of a growth in high-end television and that that has resonated with him from a career perspective.

Music editing

Michael then went on to be a successful music editor, working on a number of celebrated films. In order to give us a better insight in to the role of a music editor in film we were shown three clips from different scores Michael worked on. These were Love Actually, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Michael explained how the role of the music editor is to listen to the director, producer and composer and provide diplomatic solutions in order to achieve the best music for the film.

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It was interesting to hear that Richard Curtis had a huge number of songs that he was interested in using in Love Actually (some of which were referenced in the script) and how Michael was involved in the cutting room, deciding what track would work for a certain scene in order to realise the soundtrack in Curtis’s mind. The clip we watched was the moving moment Emma Thompson’s character receives the gift she thinks is a necklace, but which is in fact a Joni Mitchell CD, and goes to listen to it as she cries upstairs. Michael talked about how the music underscoring the moment she opens the gift references the music of the Joni Mitchell song that immediately follows in the bedroom scene, weaving the film together.

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Courtesy of Working Title

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Courtesy of New Line Cinema

We were also shown the famous fight in the Serpentine fountain scene from the Bridget Jones sequel as an example of when the editors have to dramatically cut a song in the edit for a film and finally the scene from The Return of the King in which Viggo Mortensen’s Aragorn is crowned and reunited with Arwen. Michael spoke further about the process for creating the score for The Lord of the Rings films (he worked on all three of them) and how it was true that Howard Shore’s team had indeed taken over a whole floor of the Dorchester hotel during the process! There were scores of people working on the films and so unlike a smaller film (such as Love Actually) you couldn’t become personally familiar with everything that was happening. No one had all the answers and, although it had been an incredible experience and Howard Shore was an incredible man, it was not Michael’s style of working as a musician.

Courtesy of Universal Pictures

One of Michael’s last jobs as a music editor was the film Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuaron. Michael recalled that this was the most incredible interview he ever had for a job ad talked about how Alfonso genuinely cares about every detail of his films. The project also meant Michael had the opportunity to work with his favourite composer Sir John Tavener and how the film was changed to fit the music tempo once Tavener came to Abbey Road and recorded his piece of score for it, as he did this at a different tempo to how Cuaron had imagined it. Michael also hilariously spoke of having to come up with the sound of the music of the future, which included audio of a screaming German student found online (who is credited in the film)!

Composing (and a certain TV show)!

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Courtesy of the BBC

Michael spoke about how, as a screen composer, there is a spectrum from artisan to artist and that he is more interested in the artist end of this spectrum. He is always trying to find artistic expression that is authentic. He spoke about first meeting David Arnold more than ten years ago, when he wrote additional music for him and how, although an unlikely pair, they had become firm friends. Michael then moved on to discuss the music he is now most associated with – BBC’s Sherlock (which he scores with David Arnold). David already knew Mark Gatiss and Michael remembers him and David watching the pilot of Sherlock and having just ten days to write the score. They divided up the characters between the two of them in a pub in Soho and set to work. I thought it was particularly nice to hear that they never say who writes each part of the music as it is a shared voice.

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Courtesy of the BBC

Michael further went in to detail as to the creation of some of the iconic themes from the show and how many of the characters in Sherlock have four chord tunes, such as Watson, Moriarty, Sherlock himself and the main theme and that therefore this DNA of the Sherlock music has been set from the beginning. This was wonderfully demonstrated by Peter Gregson (a cellist and composer in his own right), who played the main themes on a cello for us. To delve deeper in to the music of the show we then watched the first of two clips, which was from the first episode A Study In Pink and is the scene in which Sherlock and Watson chase the cab across Soho. After the clip Michael said how sometimes you are dependent on a constellation of things happening around you, for example, Paul McGuigan’s direction and how so much character is in the performances of the lead actors and that you just have to join in! He also admitted that he probably played it slightly safer in the beginning of the show.

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Courtesy of the BBC

The second clip was the final conversation between John and Sherlock in series 3’s His Last Vow. Michael spoke about how when writing the music you don’t want to repeat yourself as that would be boring, but that you also don’t want to alienate people either when coming up with something different and that although he and David had discussed ideas for series 3 before seeing it, none of these ideas were actually used. He kept these to himself in case they can be used for series 4 (if there is a series 4 he added swiftly, not wanting to be the one to be seen as confirming anything)! He agreed that the third series had been more about the relationship between the lead characters and he had chosen this clip specifically because it was a scene between them which contains that initial DNA of the music for those characters – those four chords, gradually moving around through the conversation, before the music reaches up with Sherlock as he disappears in the plane.

Any questions?

There was then time for a few questions from the audience.

1. Any rituals when composing?

On being asked about how he writes in solitude on projects (rather than as part of a collaboration) Michael talked about avoiding the blank page! He is a lark rather than an owl and so will work earlier in the morning if necessary rather than later and tries to work from 9am – 7pm. He also spoke of his belief in starting out with pencil, paper and a piano rather than writing on a computer, as he thinks writing straight on to a computer shapes how you work. By starting with a notebook the tune can develop at the speed it needs to and that once he has a book of ideas he hopes that is enough to sustain him through the score. He referred to the ability to go back to music on Sherlock and change things but that on any project if the tune isn’t great to begin with no amount of orchestration can save it.

2. Choice of instruments?

The second question came from Beryl Vertue herself (who began by saying how everyone at Sherlock was so proud of all the wonderful music, which was applauded by the audience). She asked Michael what motivates him to choose a certain instrument for a piece of score. He replied that sometimes a tune is simply a piano tune or a trumpet tune, but that at other times more than one instrument could fit and so it is decided on a cue by cue basis. He gave the example of Watson’s theme, which was used for the first time in brass in His Last Vow during the resurrection sequence when Watson is effectively saving Sherlock’s life. He also said that the Sherlock theme chords suit anything, such as low cellos under dialogue (as in the second clip) or violins and that it is great to be able to change the palette.

Reference was also made to the use of the cimbalom in the Sherlock music as this is also used by Hans Zimmer in the score of the Sherlock films. Michael said that they has actually used it earlier for the Crooked House for Mark Gatiss (where the budget stretched to only two instruments) and that the sound they had wanted to achieve with the Sherlock music had been one of hi-tech vs. low-tech, which was different from that of Zimmer’s score for the films.

3. Process for matching music to specific scenes?

Michael was finally asked how he matches music to specific scenes, to which he spoke about it being a carving process and that you need to be honest with yourself as to what works and what doesn’t work. There are big questions, such as what type of overall sound are you looking for, but there are also many micro decisions to be made during the process. Some are easy wins, however the majority need lots of polish. This takes a lot of work and he said that this is something composers respect about each other.

Michael ended by first letting us in on one of his favourite themes from Sherlock – Irene Adler’s theme (it’s like having a favourite child he said) and we were lucky enough to hear The Woman played beautifully by Peter (playing a violin part on a cello!) and Michael on the piano. With regards to the subject of soundtracks, Michael said he would rather create a 60 minute symphony for someone to listen to but that with a soundtrack like Sherlock he completely understood that there is an emotional connection to the memories of the characters for people and that when he hears certain pieces of the music played, he has the memories of working with David to create it.

Coming up next?

Michael is currently working on the next Inbetweeners film with David Arnold, as well as an Australian television show and his own record, which he is working on in Berlin at the moment. The evening then drew to a close with Michael playing a piece on the piano (I think it was from The Hope of Better Weather, but I’m not 100% certain about that) as a thank to us all.

This was certainly an incredibly interesting and insightful evening, during which it was wonderful to hear about Michael’s career as a whole and I’d like to thank him for taking the time to share his memories and experiences with us. The Conversations with Screen Composers series is continuing and I’d recommend going along to one if you can.

 

Watching Sherlock Series 3 Filming in London!

I started to write about my fantastic experiences watching filming of series 3 of Sherlock earlier in the year, more so I didn’t forget it and now I have a blog and now the episodes have aired I thought why not post it, so forgive me if this rambles on a bit! SPOILER WARNING – If you have yet to see the episodes this does contain spoilers.

I find the production of film and TV incredibly interesting and tend to watch filming if I come across it, which living in London does happen occasionally, especially since I learnt from the wisdom of others what those neon arrows I often see on lampposts mean! Therefore I was hopeful of catching filming of the new series of Sherlock when it ventured to London, as I knew I wouldn’t be able to get to Cardiff due to work.

I had already caught the bug after being lucky enough to be one of a small crowd who watched filming for the series 2 finale The Reichenbach Fall outside St Barts on 17 July 2011. There really weren’t many people there and at one point myself and my two friends found ourselves being moved to stand behind the monitor tent (so that we were not in shot), only to have Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman stand practically next to us! They were watching their stunt doubles film the aftermath of Sherlock’s fall (Sherlock on the floor and John being knocked to the floor by the bike). It was quite surreal to have them so near, with Benedict covered in blood, with a towel round his shoulders – Sherlock and John watching Sherlock and John! Bonkers. Although we didn’t approach them as they were clearly working and that felt wholly inappropriate, it certainly made me hope I’d see more filming of this brilliant series!

Filming the aftermath of the Fall (you can just see Benedict on the floor)
can you spot Benedict’s arm as he lies on the floor?
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Benedict being wheeled in to the hospital entrance for a take

 

10th April 2013 – Day 1 at 221b!

I didn’t realise it would take quite so long however but at long last series 3 filming began in Wales and then the first trip to London. What a difference a two year hiatus makes – I still can’t quite believe the crowd at Baker Street for filming of episode one The Empty Hearse on 10th April 2013. As it was a working day I only managed to get there after work, but hadn’t actually missed too much. The weather started out fine and we watched the filming of what would turn out to be Sherlock & Watson’s last shot in the episode, standing outside Baker Street speaking to the reporters, complete with deerstalker. It was lovely to see them actually filming outside that iconic location and even my flatmate came along to watch!

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That evening turned out to be a great one to go to, with quite a few scenes shot, including John being attacked outside 221b. Mark Gatiss entertained the crowd during rehearsal of this scene, as on seeing what happens the crowd gasped, prompting him to turn around to us all, put his hand to his mouth and make a shock gasp style gesture!

As the evening went on however the weather took a turn for the worse. In short it poured it down for hours, but the crowd at Sherlock filming have a great spirit and once we had an umbrella (purchased from the wonderful corner shop on North Gower Street) it was fine. As the rain started to fall heavily, filming was to continue with Benedict Cumberbatch and Amanda Abbington, who were to film their speedy exit from 221b on to the road and Sherlock commandeering a motorbike. It was during the set up for these scenes that Benedict, Martin and Amanda all came across to the huge crowd to say hello. Only Benedict made it along the line opposite 221b to reach the opposite corner where we were standing but it was nice of him to do so. He thanked everyone for being there and supporting the show and said to “Stay sane and dry” which in that weather was really a lost hope! I said I hoped he’d be able to fit in some more theatre sometime soon, to which he said he hoped so too as he’d love to if he could find the time. With the exciting Hamlet rumours now circulating I certainly hope this happens soon!

The scene with the bike was still being filmed when I left just after 10 p.m. (by which point myself and my flatmate were sufficiently drenched).

13th April 2013 – St Barts Day 1!

It wasn’t long before the all-important filming outside St Bart’s arrived. As I don’t work far from there, I suspected the rumours were true when the parking restriction signs for a full weekend due to filming went up all along the side of Smithfield Market and so I joined a few friends there the next day. The weather was pretty miserable yet again and I felt genuinely sorry for the cast and crew having to work on it the rain. Poor Benedict also seemed to have a cold, which couldn’t have been much fun in that weather.

When I arrived the crowd was fairly small and the large blue crash mat was in position by St Bart’s (little did we know that it would actually be in the episode!). Most of the day was spent filming Sherlock’s fall, requiring Benedict to first jump/fall from the cradle raised above the crash mat.

This was followed up by him leaping on to the mat from the side, which meant he had to climb a ladder and then launch himself on to the mat, which looked like a lot of fun!

In true fashion, the rain started once the wirework began. Benedict’s stunt double was used to measure out the different heights they wanted to capture and once that was done it was time for Benedict to film. After a few takes and as the rain started to pour, someone had clearly had a great idea, and as Benedict was raised up on the wire in preparation for another take, he took the umbrella up with him, continuing to hold it over himself whilst suspended in mid-air, which was quite funny to see. Only when they were ready to film, did he drop the umbrella to the crew below and do a take. The crew also started laying towels on the crash mat, as a few takes resulted in Benedict being lowered fully on to the mat face down, which by this point must have been soaking wet.


Benedict’s stunt double on the wire as they set up shots

Once Benedict and Martin were no longer needed, Benedict’s stunt double was filmed on the wire, dropping from the top of St Bart’s to almost the pavement, before being hoisted back up at some speed! It was very impressive to watch.

Everyone hoped that the weather would improve for the next day!


Benedict’s stunt double doing the full drop

14th April 2013 – St Bart’s Day 2!

As if by magic the weather for the second day at St Bart’s couldn’t have been more different! The sun was out and it was already quite warm by 11 a.m. when I arrived. A couple of friends I knew were already there and barriers were up, behind which the crowd were watching. The first scene I saw was Martin filming John on the phone to Sherlock and calling out to him. In between takes the cast and crew seemed far more relaxed (maybe it was the glorious weather) and Benedict and Martin, both sporting sunglasses chatted with Mark Gatiss, Sue Vertue and the crew.

It was then time to film scenes in front of the hospital and joined by my flatmate, we managed to get a fantastic spot on top of a stone seat near the archway of the hospital. Being relatively short it was great to have something to stand! The next few hours were incredibly good fun. We watched the scene where Benedict ran up and swapped places with his stunt double who was dragged off through the side archway (cue lots of oohs from the crowd) and Steven Moffat appeared just before lunch to much excitement.


the body swap!


Two Sherlocks! Benedict wanders over between shots.


Benedict on the pavement


The 2 headed Sherlock! Real and stunt side by side!


Filming the scenes with Benedict covered in blood on the pavement

After lunch it really did get ridiculous. First Mark Gatiss returned to set, but in full Mycroft outfit, which started the speculation as to how Mycroft fitted in to the puzzle! Then, all of a sudden Andrew Scott, in full costume, casually sauntered up the road towards the hospital. The reaction as he was spotted by more people was crazy and he drew claps and cheers from the crowd. He chatted happily on set, every so often waving to those watching. Then they “filmed” that scene and I’m so pleased I was there to watch, as along with everyone else I puzzled over why Mycroft and Moriarty were together and shaking hands – was this flashback? And why on earth was Moriarty wearing Sherlock’s coat?! Or was this a hoax to wind us all up?! It was also nice to watch as Benedict wandered up to watch them film, sitting down on the floor against the ambulance station, next to Steven Moffat. Good for them for trying to plot red herrings and keep us guessing!

Then just when it couldn’t get any stranger, Martin began filming and my friend went “That guy looks a bit like Derren Brown” before we realised that that was indeed Derren Brown! We could clearly hear him saying “and sleep” which made us want to laugh. John hypnotised by Derren Brown? Really?!

All in all it was a fantastic weekend and I felt privileged to watch the hard working crew as well as the actors at work. The set up and effort that goes in to making TV of this quality is very impressive indeed. We also did well by not putting any spoilers on the internet.


Mycroft on set


Yes we did miss you Andrew!


The red herring!


The only photo I have of Derren – it’s him under the hood honest!

21st May 2013 – Day 2 at 221b!

My next trip to “221b” was for more filming of The Empty Hearse and the taxi scene from The Sign of Three, in which Sherlock hails a cab and he and John head off to investigate The Bloody Guardsman. The crowd was again quite large and it was a much shorter day in terms of scenes filmed. Benedict and Martin filmed the hailing of the taxi for about 45 minutes and then Benedict left and Martin filmed John’s arrival, this time with moustache (much to everyone’s amusement!) at 221b and the children asking him to give a Penny For The Guy. For trivia fans – the face on the Guy was drawn by Mark Gatiss! Filming was finished in a few hours, as the crew had already been filming in the morning at St James’ Park for the scenes on the bench and with the guards, which sadly I didn’t go to. The crew did however let people queue up to have photos at 221b before they removed the numbers and also with the Baker Street sign after it had been removed from the wall!

21st August 2013 – Day 3 at 221b!

My final day of filming was for the finale and again, mainly involved Benedict hailing a taxi, although instead of taking John with him, Sherlock leaves him standing alone of the street after what looked to be a few serious words. It was fun last night to see what they were actually saying and my friend who was there with me that day was thrilled to see it live on TV.

For the first time I was able to witness the welcome Martin and Benedict get when they arrive on set and it is quite something. There were hundreds of people there that day and the cheers they received when they arrived were like something from a rock concert! My friend had come with me out of curiosity and he couldn’t believe it. There came a point early on when the main crowd opposite 221b (we chose to stand in our usual spot on the corner a bit further along) screamed and cheered whenever they appeared from out of the door of 221b to rehearse the scene and after a couple of times, Benedict wandered across good naturedly and gestured for them to not do it when they were rehearsing/filming.

From then on, there was relative silence until Cut was shouted, at which point a large cheer and applause would be given. I felt as if I was at the theatre in some ways. It must be very strange for them filming TV in those surroundings.

Amanda Abbington also arrived on set and happily signed autographs for the crowd. This was also the day Benedict held up his political questions on civil liberties and I was hilariously referenced in a Guardian article, as possibly one of the first people to put on twitter what he’d said. That’s certainly one way to get your thoughts out to the world!

The other scenes filmed were the arrival of the henchmen of Charles Augustus Magnusson in a black car with the number plate “I CAM” and their entry in to Baker Street and also Sherlock’s arrival with John at Baker Street, dressed in very un-Sherlock tracksuit bottoms and T-shirt. We were all amused by his annoyance with the door knocker and again it was lovely to see the context of that on last night’s episode.

Once filming ended I was amazed when both Benedict and Martin signed for the huge crowd, with Benedict going along the whole line, as if it was a film premiere. Typically I hadn’t brought anything with me that day, seeing as they hadn’t signed previously so I happily stood back and watched the spectacle. People who just happened to be walking past wondered what was going on and on hearing who was signing, they joined the crowd! Now we just had to wait for the episodes to air!  

15th December 2013 – The Empty Hearse Preview at the BFI!

To top off the fun I’d had at filming, by some miracle I managed to buy two tickets for the preview screening at the BFI of episode one. I have been a BFI member for a few years now and I usually fail at getting tickets for the “popular sell out in seconds events”, so this was a huge surprise! As my earlier spoiler free post about that day says, the atmosphere was wonderful both in the building beforehand and during the screening. It was also lovely to see so many people involved with the show there. Andrew Scott seemed to go relatively unnoticed as people took their seats and Louise Brealey was sitting next to him with Una Stubbs also there. As you would expect the arrival of Mark Gatiss, Steven Moffat, Amanda Abbington, Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch caused lots of excitement and they seemed genuinely thrilled to be there.

It was certainly an incredible atmosphere in which to watch that episode and now it’s aired you can imagine the reactions to some of the moments right from the first few minutes. There were everything from gasps, to groans, to laughter and clapping. The majority of people in the room also recognised who was playing Sherlock’s parents and this drew claps. Benedict in the Q&A later said how emotional he’d felt watching that scene and it getting that response and how wonderful it had been to have his parents involved. I’d recommend reading the transcript of the Q&A as there were some great questions (putting aside the awkward fan fiction moment).

And now it’s all over. I really hope it’s not another two year hiatus, but quality takes time and they are all so busy now that I won’t be surprised if it is. All my fingers are crossed that I’ll be able to see some filming of series 4, although the thought that that could not be until 2015 is quite a scary thought!

I’ll attempt in the next few days to put all my photos on Flickr (as I think I have an account for that). All my filming videos are on You Tube under vickster5001.

Sherlock: The Empty Hearse Preview – Spoiler Free Thoughts on a fab day!

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I’ll start by saying this contains no spoilers. I am not planning to ruin the thrill and surprise for any fans of Sherlock but had to record my thoughts of such a fantastic day at the BFI Southbank. I’ve been to a few events at the BFI but this atmosphere was something else entirely. From the moment you arrived you could sense the excitement. The box office area was packed with people waiting for returns/standby seats and people hoping for a glimpse of the stars. In NFT1 itself, as everyone took their seats, the anticipation and excitement was contagious. I couldn’t quite believe I’d managed to get a ticket all those weeks ago and here we were. I have been lucky enough to see a lot of filming in London for series 3 and was also excited to see those bits on film too.

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My spolier-free review of the actual episode The Empty Hearse is quite straightforward – the episode is fantastic and one of the best pieces of TV ever made. It’s rocketed straight to the top of my favourite Sherlock episodes too (taking the crown from A Scandal in Belgravia). The episode feels very expensive in terms of production values as the quality is superb. Jeremy Lovering’s direction is excellent and he takes the stylish baton from Paul McGuigan and adds to it. Seeing this on a big screen was a privilege. The story itself is fantastic. There is just about everything in this 90 minutes – light-hearted fun, bonkers humour (some bits had me cracking up along with everyone else), action, tense thrilling scenes and wonderful emotional depths. This is all possible due to the strength of the ensemble of Sherlock. Everyone adds to the episode to strengthen it, particularly Louise Brealey, Una Stubbs and Rupert Graves. Amanda Abbington has a great start as Mary and will no doubt be a super addition to the team at 221b. They are of course all led by the supremely talented Benedict Cumberbatch & Martin Freeman, whose talents know no bounds as Sherlock and John. The have so much to do in this episode and do it brilliantly. Martin handles John’s range of emotions at seeing his friend again wonderfully and gives a very real, human performance. Benedict is, as usual, excellent in a role that no one could do better and together they are a joy to watch. It almost doesn’t feel as if it’s been 2 years (well…almost)! It will be interesting to watch again without the crowd there, as this group viewing experience certainly heightened the responses – so much cheering, clapping and laughing throughout.

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss have created an incredibly special series with Sherlock but I have to give so much praise to Mark Gatiss for this episode. His writing is wonderful in The Empty Hearse – totally barmy one minute and deeply touching the next. The nods to not only Conan Doyle but to the show’s own incredible success is very well done and never feels too much. Plus he has written Mycroft some of his best bits here too, which is lovely.

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The Q&A was a disappointment and rather uncomfortable. Caitlin Moran’s choice of questions and approach were odd, especially from someone who is a fan and has done some great interviews in the past (her Benedict one is very good indeed). She brought people’s attention to fans in the back of a shot (which I didn’t notice but my friend did) which made me feel very sorry for the director and although it was made light of by the panel, it felt quite uncomfortable to watch. I will also never understand why she thought getting Martin & Benedict to read some slasher fanfiction was a good idea! Very awkward indeed. Not all awful though – Benedict & Martin were able to acknowledge how respectful fans are at filming. Mark Gatiss remembered screams from the crowd at one point and on being asked what had happened, responding Martin had just opened a packet of crisps! Some better audience questions (favourite scenes to film, how some of the story was thought of, how Mark finds writing and acting his own scripts (jokingly he said he finds it easier to remember the lines when it’s his scripts)).

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It was also lovely to see so many of the cast past and present in attendance, highlighting how much of a family the programme is for those who create it – as well as the panel (Benedict, Martin, Mark, Steven, Sue and Jeremy) in the audience was Louise Brealey, Una Stubbs and Andrew Scott as well as the composer and some of the production team.

I hope no one spoils the twists and turns for others. I knew certain things from watching filming but still would never have imagined some of the magical moments and it really will be better as a surprise. I look forward to chatting on twitter once it airs on New Year’s Day! Rest assured though Sherlock is back a bigger and better than ever!

Welcome back Sherlock – it really has been far too long but that episode was so good it was worth the wait!