I can’t believe it’s the end of the year already, which means it’s time to look ahead to the top television choices for 2017. Personally, I think 2016 was a superb year for television, whether returning shows or new ones (my look back at 2016’s excellent television will be posted in the next few days) and the new year is already looking rather promising.
So, here are the 17 programmes that I’m most excited about tuning in to in 2017 (well it’s 18 actually, but I’m sure you’ll let me off). As I’m in the UK, air dates and channels are those for the UK.
Sherlock (series 4, BBC One, starts 1st January)
Well, Sherlock was always going to be on my list of hotly anticipated television for the new year! After last Christmas’s slightly bizarre special, series four arrives and from the trailers promises to be a much darker affair. With Toby Jones on board to play this year’s baddie and Andrew Scott making an appearance (in flashback? still alive? who knows), I have high hopes. Sherlock deserves its hype thanks to its strong cast, direction, writing and music and I hope the next three episodes will only leave us wanting more!
Broadchurch (series 3, ITV, expected Spring 2017)
Returning in early 2017 for its third and final series is one of ITV’s strongest dramas for years. I know I’m in a minority when I say I really did enjoy the second series of Broadchurch (it really does benefit from a rewatch), but even if you preferred series one, the partnership of David Tennant and Olivia Colman is always a joy and I’m intrigued to see what drama awaits the residents of this Dorset community.
Suits (Dave, series 6B returns 29th January)
I’ve recently started watching Suits again and had forgotten how much I loved it. Now up to date, I’m looking forward to seeing the continuation of series 6 when the series returns in 2017. One of the show’s biggest strengths is how it continues to adapt the focus of the series as it goes along and after quite a few changes over the last couple of years, it will be very interesting to see what’s next for the gang. I’d quite like to see Harvey’s mother make an appearance, to see how he copes with that emotional hurdle, but we’ll have to see. Oh, and more hand holding with Donna please Harvey!
Taboo (BBC One, starts 7th January)
A new eight part drama for BBC One is Taboo, created by Peaky Blinders’ Steven Knight, British actor Tom Hardy (whose international reputation continues to grow following his Oscar nominated performance in The Revenant) and his father, writer Chips Hardy. Set in 1814, Hardy plays James Keziah Delaney, a man believed to be dead who returns to London from Africa to inherit his father’s business and avenge his death. With a supporting cast including Mark Gatiss, Tom Hollander and Jonathan Pryce and with Ridley Scott on board as an executive producer, this will certainly be an epic start to BBC One’s year.
24: Legacy (FOX, starts 15th February)
I admit I struggled with the idea of 24 without Jack Bauer and I’m still sceptical, but I’m willing to give this reboot of one of my favourite series a go. Yes, there’s no Kiefer Sutherland, but if the storylines continue to grab my attention and interest with the help of 24’s signature real-time format and if the acting is up to scratch, this could be very enjoyable indeed. I really do hope it proves to be worthy successor to the original run.
Making A Murderer (Netflix, date TBC)
The first series of this documentary in to the case of convicted murderer Steven Avery and his nephew Brendan Dassey both shocked and infuriated me and millions of other viewers. I’ve continued to follow the events online and it will be fascinating to get under the skin of this continuing case, as those representing Avery and Dassey continue to fight to unearth the truth behind the tragic murder of Teresa Halbach.
Guerilla (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
Written by John Ridley (who won an Oscar for the 12 Years A Slave screenplay), this drama set in the 1970s London revolves around black activism, when a young couple liberate a political prisoner from an underground cell. The couple’s ultimate target becomes the Black Power Desk, a secret counter-intelligence unit within Special Branch dedicated to eradicating such activism. Starring Idris Elba, together with a very strong cast for theatre lovers like me, including Rory Kinnear, Daniel Mays and Denise Gough this powerful series is near the top of my list for 2017.
Stranger Things (Netflix, date TBC)
Stranger Things’s mix of spooky, supernatural and classic 80s nostalgia was a real highlight of television this year and I’m already looking forward to seeing where the characters are a year on, when series two returns in 2017. We don’t know much yet, but set in 1984, it’ll be lovely to see what nods to the films of that era make it in to the series (it has already been said that Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom will be an influence). With all the wonderful kids returning (including Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven), as well as the other regulars from series one, this is sure to be as addictive as series one.
Prison Break (series 5, channel and date TBC)
It’s time to break out of yet another prison! I’m still surprised about the return of this series, which did get rather bonkers by the fourth series. However, as we left the show with Michael supposedly dead, it will be interesting to see how they explain away his reappearance back behind bars! Those behind the show have said that this is a one-off event series, which will conclude the Prison Break story and as most of the original cast are back, I’m very curious to see it. Hurry up UK and announce how I can watch this!
Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
Remember when people were shocked at the idea of a successful film actor choosing to do a TV series? Thankfully this is now commonplace and 2017 sees the arrival of HBO’s new series based on Liane Moriarty’s novel, starring Reese Witherspoon, Nicola Kidman and Shailene Woodley, as mothers of children at the same kindergarten. As their children become friends, their lives are apparently turned upside down as secrets are revealed. HBO and Sky Atlantic (who are airing it here in the UK) are doing a great job of not giving too much away as yet!
Game of Thrones (series 7, Sky Atlantic, summer 2017)
Let’s face it, Game of Thrones will be on this list for the next two years before the series ends! After moving past the books, the thrill now when tuning in to Game of Thrones is that anything really could happen and whether you’ve read them or not, all of its fans are now in the same boat. As Daenerys makes her way across the sea with her army and her dragons, it’ll be fantastic to see some of our favourite characters hopefully come together at long last. Will Jaime have to kill Cersei? Will Jon and Sansa finally reunite with Arya? Will the game of thrones really matter if the White Walkers breach the Wall? I can’t wait to find out!
Twin Peaks (series 3, Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
I remember dipping in and out of Twin Peaks when I was younger so that I could see David Duchovny playing Denise. To my shame I’ve always intended to revisit it and give this cult classic the attention everyone tells me it deserves. I now have the boxset and what better time to watch it than now, before David Lynch and Mark Frost’s series returns after 25 years?! With Kyle MacLachlan back as Dale Cooper and many others returning (including, I hear, Mr Duchovny!), together with actors such as Jim Belushi and Laura Dern said to be making appearances, this is sure to be one of the most talked about series on television in 2017.
Riviera (Sky Atlantic, date TBC)
Another film actress leading a new television drama is Julia Stiles in Riviera. Created by writer and director Neil Jordan (based on an idea by Paul McGuinness and co-written by Booker Prize-winning author John Banville), this thriller is set on the French Riviera. When her husband is killed in a yacht explosion, Stiles’s character sets out to uncover the truth of what happened to him, only to discover the truth about the activities he was really involved in. It sounds as if this could be this year’s The Night Manager (pity there is no Tom Hiddleston though)!
Death In Paradise (series 6, BBC One, starts 5th January)
I do love Death In Paradise! What better winter pick me up is there than the glorious island life of Saint Marie (actually Guadeloupe) and the lovely Humphrey Goodman played by Kris Marshall? Yes it can be a bit silly, but that’s part of its charm and these murder mysteries are always great fun. Also, series six apparently includes a two-part story set in London. It’ll be brilliant if we get to see the rest of the gang trying to adapt to Humphrey’s world for a change!
Doctor Who (series 10, BBC One, date TBC)
After no new series of Doctor Who during 2016, I’m looking forward to the return of Peter Capaldi aboard the TARDIS during 2017. With a new companion Bill Potts (played by Pearl Mackie) who we’ll meet on Christmas Day, it will be interesting to see a new duo flying through time and space having adventures. Rumours are circling that Capaldi may call it a day after this series to make way for a new Doctor when Chris Chibnall takes the helm. I hope he doesn’t leave, but either way, I intend to enjoy a new set of episodes of this BBC classic.
Fearless (ITV, date TBC)
We still know very little about this new ITV drama. However, the simple fact it stars Helen McCrory is enough for me. Also starring Sir Michael Gambon, all we know at the moment is that it is a six part legal conspiracy thriller in which McCrory plays a solicitor determined to free a man she believes was wrongly convicted of the murder of a child. However, it seems forces in the police and intelligence community are just as determined to stop her. Written by one of the writers of Homeland, I have high hopes for this series.
The Crown (series 2, Netflix, hopefully late 2017)
After all the hype, it was thrilling to discover that Netflix’s drama documenting the early years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II was utterly superb. The writing, direction, costumes, realistic sets, stirring score and excellent acting from the whole cast means that series two can’t come quickly enough. We don’t yet know how many years the series will cover, but it’s already been confirmed that it’ll be the last series with the current actors, before older actors move the decades forward as the Queen’s reign unfolds.
Line of Duty (series 4, BBC One, date TBC)
Okay, so this makes 18, but on hearing that the new series of Line of Duty will likely air in 2017, I really couldn’t leave it out. Without a doubt, this has been one of the greatest dramas of recent years, with each series building on the success of the first. After the nail-biting end to series three, it’ll be interesting to see what’s in store for the team of AC-12 when the show moves from BBC Two to BBC One. If you haven’t watched it, then get catching up fast!
So those are my picks for 2017 and that’s only based on what has already been announced, so who knows what other shows we’ll be enjoying over the next twelve months! For now though, enjoy the Christmas television offerings!
Yesterday on this blog I tried to predict the nominations for this year’s BAFTA Television Awards and this morning’s announcement, streamed live of the Periscope app, revealed I’d not done too badly at the drama categories.
As I did last year, I thought I’d now try and predict the winners and discuss those surprise inclusions and omissions (let’s face it, there’s always some at awards like this!). I’d be interested to hear what your thoughts are in the run up to the ceremony on Sunday 10th May 2015.
Starting with Best Actor, I did pretty well here, correctly choosing three of the four nominees. I’m pleased to see Benedict Cumberbatch nominated again for Sherlock, as he did some superb work in series three. However he will have tough competition from James Nesbitt (The Missing), Toby Jones (Marvellous) and Jason Watkins (The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries). As much I I’d love Benedict to finally win an acting BAFTA (this is nomination number six), I think he’ll miss out again this year, with Toby Jones’s performance in Marvellous a likely winner. As for omissions, it’s a shame Jamie Dornan missed out for The Fall.
– Predicted Winner: Toby Jones (Marvellous)
As with the actor category, I picked three of the four actresses making this year’s shortlist and I still think this will be the toughest choice of the night. Choosing between Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley), Keeley Hawes (Line of Duty), Sheridan Smith (Cilla) and Georgina Campbell (Murdered By My Boyfriend) will be very difficult, but for me I think it has to be Sarah Lancashire. Catherine Cawood was a superb character in Happy Valley and stood out for me all year. As with last year’s awards, the most disappointing omission for me is that of Gillian Anderson for The Fall, who I still think should certainly have had a nomination this year and last year (although the best performance in the form of Olivia Colman for Broadchurch did win in the end in 2014). Georgina Campbell’s nomination is a surprise for me, but that’s purely because I didn’t watch this series.
– Predicted Winner: Sarah Lancashire (Happy Valley)
Only two out of four correctly predicted in the drama series category, with Happy Valley and Line of Duty both rightly being acknowledged this year. The other two nominees are Peaky Blinders (a series I have on DVD ready to catch up on!) and The Missing. I’m sad to see no mention of Sherlock this year, but I’m not completely surprised, due to its inclusion in the Audience Award category and as I’m aware that some people felt this last series was weaker than the others, because they didn’t enjoy the focus of character and relationships over cases (something that didn’t bother me at all). I’m a little surprised about there being no nomination for The Fall (which receives no nominations this year) and Hinterland too, as despite not seeing it myself everyone I know who did watch it raved about it.
– Predicted Winner: Line of Duty
The supporting actor and actress nominations were strangely left out of the the live streaming announcement, but it appears that I only selected one correct nominee here. I’m absolutely thrilled to see James Norton nominated for his frightening turn as Tommy Lee Royce in Happy Valley. Also nominated is Adeel Akhtar (Utopia), Stephen Rea (The Honourable Woman) and Ken Stott (The Missing). As I only saw one of the performances it seems a bit unfair for me to pick a winner, but I hope James Norton wins. I do however think Ken Stott will win, as his performance was one I heard an awful lot about when The Missing aired on the BBC. I’m disappointed that there is no mention of Martin Freeman for Sherlock, as he gave a superb performance in all three episodes of series three, but at least he has already won for his role of John Watson in 2011. It’s also a great shame that the wonderful work of Aneurin Barnard in Cilla hasn’t been recognised either.
– Predicted Winner: Ken Stott (The Missing) (but I’m rooting for James Norton!)
The supporting actress category was one I had great difficulty picking a shortlist for and so didn’t try. From the list of Gemma Jones (Marvellous), Vicky McClure (Line of Duty), Amanda Redman (Tommy Cooper: Not Like That, Like This) and Charlotte Spencer (Glue), I only watched Line of Duty (after failing to finish Glue), so I’ll simply say I hope she wins. No mention of Joanne Froggatt for Downton Abbey or Amanda Abbington for Sherlock (both of whom could have been worthy nominees this year).
– Predicted Winner: Less certain, but I’m rooting for Vicky McClure (Line of Duty)
Another decent round of predictions for the International category, with three out of four correctly predicted! It’s quite a tough line up, with The Good Wife, House of Cards, Orange Is The New Black and True Detective left to battle it out. Some will no doubt be surprised there is no inclusion of Game of Thrones, but I assume this is driven by its inclusion in the Audience Award category. I’m sorry Fargo wasn’t included too. From the choices and despite being a huge House of Cards fan, I’d love The Good Wife to win, as series five was a brilliant run of episodes, containing some shocking story lines and superb acting from all. I wouldn’t be surprised though if True Detective gets the win, as although I’m still struggling to finish it, it seems to have received universal praise.
– Predicted Winner: True Detective (but I’m rooting for The Good Wife!)
I’m never sure what will count as a drama series or mini series, so I didn’t try to predict this shortlist. From the nominees of Cilla, The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries, Our World War and Prey, I would love to see Cilla win, as it was a wonderful programme, with impressive performances from Sheridan Smith, Aneurin Barnard and Ed Stoppard. However, I think The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries may come out on top.
– Predicted Winner: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jeffries
This was another category for which I didn’t feel I’d seen enough possible choices. From the shortlist of: Marvellous, Common, A Poet In New York and Murdered By My Boyfriend, I’ll take a guess it’ll be Marvellous (although I heard great things about the other three too).
– Predicted Winner: Marvellous
Radio Times Audience Award
This is the only BAFTA Television Award voted for by the public and has led to some surprising winners in the past (yes I do mean TOWIE!). There are seven nominees here, making the battle that much tougher. From the nominees of: Cilla, Eastenders, Game of Thrones, The Great British Bake Off, The Missing, Sherlock and Strictly Come Dancing, I’ll be voting for Sherlock, especially now it has not been nominated in the main Drama Series category. This one is always hard to predict, with Game of Thrones and The Great British Bake Off both very popular in particular. To vote follow this link: Vote for Audience Award.
– Predicted Winner: Sherlock (the fan base and it’s lack of main drama nomination should swing it)
As I don’t really watch a lot of comedy, soaps or entertainment shows, I have less of an opinion on the remaining categories, but I would say that I hope The Great British Bake Off wins the Features category, Strictly Come Dancing the Entertainment Programme and The Graham Norton Show for the Comedy / Comedy Entertainment Programme award. The full list of nominations can be read here.
So, after a respectable round of predictions yesterday, those are my choices for winners at the ceremony in May. Do let me know your thoughts, especially those performances and programmes you feel should have been nominated!
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
It’s not going to come as a surprise that my choices for drama series reflect some of the impressive acting performances this year.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
After looking ahead to what’s coming to the stage, cinema and TV screen in 2015, as well as picking my favourite theatre of the year, I thought I’d look back at those television moments in 2014 that had the biggest impact, whether for good or shockingly terrible reasons, especially if you didn’t see it coming.
Here are my top ten.
1. Line of Duty episode 1 – Farewell to DC Georgia Trotman
I hadn’t watched the first series of Jed Mercurio’s police drama and it was only the buzz on Twitter as series two began that motivated me to catch up and I’m certainly glad I did. This definitely was one of the strongest dramas of the year – superbly written to keep you guessing as to guilt or innocence of Keeley Hawes’s DI Lindsay Denton. However the moment that stands out for me and had me stunned was the murder of new cast member Jessica Raine’s DC Trotman. Just as you felt you were getting to know her and she was settling in, she gets thrown out of a window! Goodness knows what series three will have in store.
2. Sherlock: The Empty Hearse – Sherlock & Molly
January saw the much anticipated return of the BBC’s Sherlock after two years! Yes it was only around for three weeks, but in three episodes it reminded us how much better it is than most shows on television. I could have picked so many moments from series three (the stag night, the best man’s speech, the game of Operation), but the one I have to go for is the fantasy Molly/Sherlock kiss from The Empty Hearse. I first saw it at a preview screening and the reaction from the audience was brilliant. For a few seconds I really wondered what on earth was going on! Not only was the whole sequence a wonderful way to open the episode, but it is one of the hottest kisses on the big or small screen.
3. Game of Thrones – The demise of the Red Viper
Ahh Game of Thrones, it can always be relied on to bring some truly shocking moments to the screen. As someone who has read the books, it’s great to anticipate the scenes that you know will shock and see how well they are executed. Only choosing one is tough and a close second is Tryion’s superb speech during his trial, but it really had to go to the fight between the Red Viper and the Mountain and its unexpected and brutal end. Could this really be as shocking as it was to read? In short – yes. In fact it was more gruesome than I imagined it would be and is a great moment to watch with those who have no idea what’s about to happen.
4. The Good Wife – the tragic death of Will Gardner
It’s refreshing that a series in its fifth year only continued to get stronger and I loved the latest twists and turns in The Good Wife, as we saw Alicia leave to start her own firm (the whole episode where everyone finds out is superb). However nothing could beat the tragedy of Will’s unexpected death. Sadly due to the gap between US and UK air dates (about five weeks), I found out what was in store and so the surprise was lost on me. However the moment Alicia hears the news was still beautifully played by Alan Cumming and Juliana Marguiles. Series six will certainly be interesting and I’m looking forward to seeing what direction it will take.
5. Life Story – Barnacle goslings leap from their nest 400 feet up to follow parents
I don’t watch all nature programmes but the BBC’s Life Story was wonderful and filled with stunning moments. The one that stands out though is the story of the Barnacle goslings, who only days after birth must either follow their parents in their 400 feet leap or starve. Watching each chick leap off and plunge all that way, before hitting the rocks and bouncing to a stop was terrifying and astonishing and reminds you how incredible nature is.
6. Happy Valley – Catherine is almost killed saving the day
I missed this superb drama on its original airing and have only recently caught up after so many people raved about it. They were certainly right. I’m still not a fan of shows with young women in danger, but I couldn’t stop watching this thanks to Sarah Lancashire’s superb performance as Catherine Caywood. She’s such a fantastic character. The moment for me has to be after she has found Ann and after a frightening struggle with James Norton’s horrid Tommy, is dragged, bloody and hurt out in to the street. It was shocking, but some of the most realistic and powerful television I’ve seen for a while. It’s great to hear a second series in on the way.
7. Doctor Who – Fear is a superpower
2014 saw us welcome a new Doctor in to the TARDIS as Peter Capaldi became the Twelfth Doctor. I loved series eight, for its strong run of episodes and its slightly darker tone and I was torn between three moments that stick out. Runners up are the alley scene from Deep Breath, in which the new Doctor demands a homeless man (played by Elisabeth Sladen’s husband) gives him his coat and the scene from Flatline in which the Doctor moves the mini TARDIS to safety with his hand. However, my favourite moment is from Listen when the Doctor explains to a young Rupert why being afraid is a good thing because “Fear is a superpower.” I really knew at this point how wonderful Peter was going to be as the Doctor.
8. The Blacklist – Red’s monologue about death in “Anslo Garrick”
Okay, I admit that this is a bit of a cheat as this moment was actually aired in 2013. However, as I only started watching The Blacklist this year and this moment has stayed in my mind, I thought I’d include it anyway. In this two-part story, Red ends up locked in the secure holding box with Agent Ressler to escape from the terrorists who have entered the FBI facility to kill him. As he tries to save Ressler’s life, in an impressive scene by James Spader, he explains why he doesn’t intend to die then and paints a vivid picture of everything he wants to do before he does die. It’s a really beautiful moment and was when I knew I was hooked on the story of this intriguing character.
9. GBBO – Alaskagate!
Although series three of the Great British Bake Off has yet to be bettered for me, in terms of contestants and creations, Alaska-gate from the latest series had to be mentioned here! Along with a large portion of the country I was appalled when Iain discovered Diana had removed his baked alaska from the freezer. When she says “Well you’ve got your own freezer haven’t you?” I was livid! Fair enough it may have only been taken out for a few seconds and been edited to make it seem worse, but that comment from Diana seemed wholly unacceptable to me and very rude. Poor Iain.
10. House of Cards – Did you think I’d forgotten you?
Last but not least is a moment from the first episode of the second series of Netflix’s political drama House of Cards. No, it’s not the death of Zoe Barnes, as I could see it coming a mile away. Instead the moment for me is from the very end of the season opener, when I’d forgotten that Frank Underwood tends to speak to camera every so often. After him not doing it for the whole episode, it’s quite creepy when, all of a sudden, he looks in to the bathroom mirror and says: “Did you think I’d forgotten you?” Kevin Spacey is so good in this role and his monologues are some of my favourite scenes, with this one certainly top of the list.
So those are my television moments of the year. Hopefully the next twelve months will be filled with many more.
As 2014 draws to a close, it seemed to be the perfect time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2015. There are certainly lots of exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to next year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here.
1. Broadchurch 2 (ITV, starts 5th January 9:00 p.m.)
Series one of Broadchurch was a television highlight in 2013 and now series two is almost here. Starting on 5th January, I truly hope that our return to this little community meets the expectations that we all have. With the plot still much of a mystery, which is certainly a good thing, it seems a safe bet that the cast will be just as brilliant as before, with David Tennant, Olivia Colman and many of the cast returning, together with new additions including Eve Myles. From the trailer, will this revolve around Carver’s old case Sandbrook, is one of the new cast his ex wife (Eve Myles maybe?) and will we meet the character mentioned in the tie-novel, Jocelyn Knight, which I thought was the clue teased at. All will soon be revealed, but in case you missed it, here’s the trailer!
2. Wolf Hall (BBC Two, air date TBC)
I’ve owned Hilary Mantel’s pair of Booker Prize-winning novels for years and have never quite had time to start them. However after a February trip to the RSC in Stratford-Upon-Avon to see the adaptations by Mike Poulton and Mantel herself, led by the superb Ben Miles, I am now very much looking forward to this BBC dramatisation. It’s an impressive cast, including the fantastic Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and no one quite pulls off a period drama like the BBC do. Maybe I’ll try and read those books at long last before it starts!
3. The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (BBC Two, air date TBC)
More period drama coming to the BBC next year is the second series of the excellent Hollow Crown. After the success of Ben Whishaw’s award-winning Richard II and Tom Hiddleston’s Hal in Henry IV and Henry V, 2015 will bring us Henry VI and Richard III, starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard and a starry ensemble cast including Dame Judi Dench. As with Wolf Hall, the cast and directors attached to the project are very exciting for a Shakespeare fan and hopefully these television dramatisations will continue to bring a whole new audience to some of the finest plays ever written.
It’s incredibly refreshing that a drama entering its sixth year only seems to get stronger. I’m currently avoiding all spoilers as this new series has already started in the US, but hopefully a UK air date on More 4 will be announced soon. After the tragic loss of Will last year, I’m excited to see if Diane will now indeed join forces with Alicia and what exactly will happen between her and Peter, not to mention seeing more of Matthew Goode’s Finn Polmar, as well as a return by Michael J Fox and the superb Alan Cumming.
5. House of Cards (Netflix, available 27th February)
Netflix certainly did well to bring this brilliant series to the screen. Based on the UK original, Kevin Spacey has become an iconic television character as Frank Underwood, who by the end of series two has successfully schemed and manipulated his way to the very top. I still see echoes of his Richard III when I watch the show and its twists and turns will no doubt keep us gripped yet again when the drama returns in February.
Another highly anticipated return is to the glorious world of Westeros as the series makes its way further through George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series. Books four and five split the narratives of the characters up, with some only appearing in four and some only in five. However, the television producers have sensibly decided to merge these for the screen, meaning we’ll get to follow all our favourite characters throughout. Whether like me you’ve read the books and are looking forward to seeing certain moments brought to life, or are simply enjoying the series as it unfolds each year, no doubt the production quality and cast for series 5 will be as high as ever. Winter is indeed coming (probably in April).
7. The Blacklist (series one returns to Sky Living in 2015)
I was a little late to the party watching The Blacklist, but after having caught up this year, I’m certainly looking forward to the rest of series two, when Red Reddington returns in 2015. If you haven’t yet watched it, The Blacklist centres on Raymond “Red” Reddington, a former government agent, turned master criminal, who voluntarily surrenders to the FBI. He offers to help them catch dangerous criminals (some of whom they aren’t even aware of!), with the agreement that he will only talk to a rookie, young profiler Agent Elizabeth Keene. James Spader is superb as Red and it’s his mysterious link to Keene that really grabs your interest and attention. Catch up if you can.
8. Fortitude (Sky Atlantic, January)
Set in the Arctic town of Fortitude, a shocking murder rocks this usually safe, close-knit community. Sky Atlantic’s new drama has an incredibly impressive cast, including Richard Dormer as the local Sheriff, partnered with Stanley Tucci’s out-of-town DCI Morton, as well as The Killing’s Sophie Grabol, Michael Gambon, Christopher Eccleston and two of my favourite young actors Luke Treadaway and Jessica Raine. The plot reminds me of both Broadchurch and nordic hit The Killing and I’m truly hoping this will be as good as it sounds. You can watch the trailer here.
9. Sherlock (BBC One, Christmas 2015 Special)
Although we won’t be getting a full series until at least 2016 (something I try not to think about!) due to the crazy schedules of those involved, we can at least look forward to a Sherlock Christmas special a year from now! With filming due to start in January, no doubt more information will start to be revealed (and I hope to at least see a bit of filming if I can!). So far we have the above photo of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, suggesting some nod will be made to a period-style Holmes and Watson. I do however hope that not everything is revealed as for me Sherlock is a series that is so much better the less you know before you watch it. I’m confident enough to say already that this will be a television highlight of next year’s festive season!
I was disappointed to hear that this series has already been cancelled in the US after 13 episodes. Created by Rand Ravich (who also created one of my favourite shows Life starring Damian Lewis), Crisis revolves around the kidnapping of a number of students at an elite Washington D.C school, whose parents include some of the most powerful and influential people in the country. However, as a Gillian Anderson fan, I’m thrilled that it’s at least being shown over here on Watch and I’m still looking forward to watching it. The trailer is here.
After a strong first series (see my thoughts here), Peter Capaldi will be back in 2015 for series 9 of New Who. With filming to start in the new year, not much is known as yet. The opening episode is to be called The Magician’s Apprentice and the good news is that series nine will also be aired as one block, rather than split in two (which I think is much better for the show). Whether Jenna Coleman will be back will no doubt become clear after Christmas Day’s special Last Christmas, the trailer for which you can watch here.
I have never read Susannah Clarke’s fantasy historical novel, but I’ll certainly be tuning in to this new BBC adaptation. It tells the story of an early nineteenth-century England at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, in which magic exists but has been largely forgotten. That is, until a young recluse (Norrell) displays some remarkable magical skills, kick-starting an expansive period tale of a society in flux, which includes fairies, war, and magic. I’ve always heard great things about these books and I’m definitely looking forward to this seven-part series starring Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan, to air some time in 2015. So far all we have is this teaser clip to whet the appetite!
I thoroughly enjoyed the first series of ITV’s Grantchester, based on the books by James Runcie and was thrilled to hear that it’s been renewed for a second series. For anyone yet to catch up, the series stars the brilliant James Norton as Sydney Chambers, the clergyman of the sleepy village of Grantchester, who seems to spend more time solving crimes with Inspector Keating (Robson Green) than working on his sermons. Hopefully series 2 will appear some time next year.
This new drama by Kudos has been written by the brilliant Abi Morgan (The Hour) and stars Stellan Skarsgard as John River, a brilliant police officer whose genius and fault-line is the fragility of his mind. He is haunted by the murder victims whose cases he must lay to rest. As stated by the BBC he is “a man who must walk a professional tightrope between a pathology so extreme he risks permanent dismissal, and a healthy state of mind that would cure him of his gift.” Also starring Nicola Walker, Eddie Marsan and Lesley Manville, this sounds very interesting indeed.
15. The Game (BBC One, air date TBC)
Oddly this BBC drama has debuted in America first and as yet has no UK air date! It is a Cold War spy thriller set in London in the 1970s, in which the head of MI5 sets up a secret committee to investigate the existence of a Soviet plot code-named Operation Glass, whose existence was revealed by a KGB officer seeking to defect. Written by Toby Whithouse (Doctor Who, Being Human) and with a great cast including Brian Cox, Tom Hughes and Jonathan Aris, this six-part drama sounds very promising. Here’s the BBC America trailer.
…And here are a couple that better reach the UK in 2015!
Aquarius (UK channel and air date TBC)
After the success of Californication, David Duchovny is returning to television with Aquarius. Set in 1967, LA Police Sergeant Sam Hodiak is investigating the disappearance of the teenage daughter of a respected lawyer. Needing help, he partners with an undercover cop and along the way they encounter a small-time cult leader, who will go on to become Charles Manson and the series will delve in to his cat-and-mouse game with the police. As yet there is no UK channel or air date, but I’m keeping all my fingers crossed that we will get to see this some time in 2015.
I still maintain that series one of Heroes is an excellent season of television. It had a fresh and interesting premise, great characters and lots of drama and tension to engage the audience. Yes, the show did become a bit ridiculous and although I’m glad I watched all four seasons, it did become weaker by the end. I’m therefore intrigued as to what to expect from this new 13-part miniseries. It has the potential to be brilliant. All fingers are crossed!
…….With all this to look forward to, 2015 looks to be a fantastic year for high quality television!
So to mark the start of December, I selected my favourite festive films, those that it wouldn’t feel quite the same without. Following on from that, it also occurred to me how many of my favourite television shows have featured some lovely episodes set at Christmas. This certainly seems to be something US shows do far more than UK ones (well except soaps) and although they can be overly sugary, there are some which are perfect entertainment for this time of year.
So, here are my favourite ten Christmas episodes of some of the television shows I return to again and again.
1. In Excelsis Deo – The West Wing (series 1, 1999)
This series one episode remains one of my favourites of the whole series (you can read my full list here) and it’s certainly, for me, the best festive episode of The West Wing as well. There is the comedy of President Bartlett wanting to go Christmas shopping, the sweet scenes between Josh and Donna as she hints at gifts and then receives one from him that is an early demonstration of just how much they care for each other. Then there is Toby, who becomes determined to honour a deceased veteran who received his donated winter coat. It’s writing of the finest kind and full of all the elements Christmas should be.
2. The Runaway Bride – Doctor Who (Christmas Day 2006)
The Doctor Who Christmas Special is now a staple of Christmas Day television and although more recent ones have been lacking for me, there are earlier ones that I return to again and again no matter the time of year. Above all the others, my favourite is The Runaway Bride, in which we first meet Donna Noble and a wonderfully comedic partnership is born, although back then I never expected she’d be back! It’s a bonkers story but this is Doctor Who after all, but more than that the acting of David Tennant and Catherine Tate is superb as their chemistry is so clear. Also, it’s more than a comedic hour, as David so beautifully conveys the Doctor’s very immediate grief at losing Rose. Whether it’s his heartbroken look at watching a blonde woman dance and the truly sad ending as he is finally able to say that her name was Rose, as he chokes back a sob. It’ll take a lot for a TARDIS Christmas to beat this for me.
3. A Scandal In Belgravia – Sherlock (New Year’s Day 2012)
I accept that not all of this Sherlock episode is set at Christmas, with the story spanning a far greater period of time. However some of the most memorable moments for me are the Christmas scenes and as a result I always think of it as a Christmas episode. As my favourite Sherlock story to date, there is so much I could say about it (maybe that’s for another post!), but the writing is Steven Moffat at his finest, weaving an intricate plot that ultimately all makes sense and reaches a satisfying end. We also get to see 221b at Christmas and how hurtful Sherlock can be when showing off. Louise Brealey is wonderful as Molly in the scene in which she comes for Christmas drinks with her gifts. It’s also a brilliant moment as we see something unheard of – Sherlock genuinely sorry for hurting someone. I do still wonder what her gift was!
4. Noel – The West Wing (series 2, 2000)
Another festive trip to the White House, although there is little cheer here, as we see just how dark a place Josh is in following the Rosslyn shooting. It’s a phenomenal performance by Bradley Whitford (which earned him an Emmy) as Josh is forced to admit how much his near fatal experience is continuing to affect him. It also contains one of my favourite scenes from any television series, as Leo recounts the story of the man in the hole whose friend comes to his aid. If anything emphasises what friendship should be about, then this is it.
5. The Christmas Invasion – Doctor Who (Christmas Day 2005)
It’s incredible to think now how much of a novelty and possible risk for BBC bosses giving Doctor Who a Christmas special was and Christmas Day 2005 saw not only the start of a tradition, but also the proper introduction of David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor. I still think Russell T Davies is better at capturing the balance of fun, emotion and action for a Christmas episode and this was a brilliant start. By having the Doctor unconscious for most of the story, we see the events from Rose’s perspective and see how she has grown over series one to be a strong force in her own right and it’s only when there is no hope left that the Doctor can return to save the day – and in his pyjamas too! The moment Tennant appears in the TARDIS doorway, confident, cocky and full of joyous exuberance is a highlight of New Who and I knew he’d be brilliant. Not only is this a fun family story for Christmas, but it also manages to move the Doctor and Rose’s relationship forward for a new series.
6. Blue Christmas – Ally McBeal (series 3, 1999)
Ally McBeal could always be relied upon to honour the festive season, but series three’s Blue Christmas will always be the highlight for me. The usually carefree Elaine discovers a baby in a manger and falls in love, determined to keep him. Seeing her interaction with the baby is delightful and helps us to see a different side of her. Then there is the usual shenanigans in the bar, this time seeing Ally don her Santa outfit to sing a sexy Santa Baby to a stunned Richard, Billy and co! For more nostalgia about Ally McBeal, you can read my favourite episodes here.
7. How The Ghosts Stole Christmas – The X-Files (series 6, 1998)
Probably not a series you’d expect to do a festive story, this episode of Chris Carter’s brilliant show (I’ve already selected my favourite episodes of it here) is a fun addition to this list. Fox Mulder can think of nothing more festive than dragging his partner to a haunted house in the middle of nowhere, at which pairs of lovers are rumoured to have killed themselves over the years, following the death of the original occupants of the house centuries before. What follows is a gothic, yet darkly fun story, which sees the two ghosts (played by the brilliant duo of Edward Asner and Lily Tomlin) have their annual fun, trying to convince a couple to kill each other. David Duchovny revels is playing this more crazed side of Mulder and Gillian Anderson is fantastic as Scully becomes genuinely frightened of her partner. Fun and not your usual festive television, I still love this one.
8. Nine-One-One – Ally McBeal (series 5, 2001)
Christmas 2001 was always going to be difficult following the recent terrorist attacks and Ally McBeal’s festive offering that year managed to do its part to honour the sacrifices made in reality through the story of a town banning Christmas due to a recent accident resulting in a number of deaths in the community, including its firemen. John Cage’s speech about the need to share the love of Christmas this year clearly had a deeper meaning not lost on its audience. The episode also saw the return of Josh Groban (whose beautiful voice I only discovered through Ally McBeal) and I never fail to be moved by the final scenes as his character sings To Where You Are in church in memory of his lost mother.
9. The Office U.K Christmas Special finale (2003)
I wasn’t a regular watcher of The Office at the time but even I remember sitting down to watch its Christmas finale. Yes David Brent is his amusing and entertaining self, but the heart of this story is whether Tim (Martin Freemen) will finally get the girl of his dreams Dawn. After so much speculation, I started to think maybe a happy ending wasn’t to be, but the lovely scene in which she opens his heartfelt gift in the taxi and then returns to the party to kiss him is one of the most heartwarming moments of television I’ve seen. We’d all love to experience a moment like this in our lives (go on, you know you would)!
10. The Christmas Show – Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip (2006)
It may have only lasted one series, but I grew quite fond of Aaron Sorkin’s post West Wing series and although some episodes were a bit nuts, The Christmas Show is one of the highlights for me. Matthew Perry’s Matt Albie is determined to pull off a festive spectacular, despite the efforts of his writing staff to debunk all things Christmas, while Bradley Whitford’s Danny Tripp fights to deny his growing feelings for Jordan. The scene in which he finally declares he is falling for her is perfect for his character, as he tells her he is coming for her. It shouldn’t be romantic but for these two it just works. There is also the lovely tribute to the people of New Orleans, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, as the musicians of that city take to Studio 60’s stage to play O Holy Night. It’s not a conventional festive episode, but I still find myself smiling by the end of it.
There are others I could have selected, including festive offerings from E.R, Brothers & Sisters, more from Ally McBeal (special mention to series 2’s Making Spirits Bright), Doctor Who (The Snowmen is pretty good) and The West Wing (particularly Holy Night and Impact Winter).
Are any of your favourites included? Feel free to share in the comments.
I had the idea for this new series of posts after reading a number of reviews of The Imitation Game, which declared Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Alan Turing as the performance of his career to date. I found the comment interesting as, although I thought he was excellent, as a fan of his work for a number of years now and after perhaps having seen almost everything he has ever done, I could think of roles which, for me, were worthy of just as much attention and accolade as Turing.
So, I’ve decided to start a new series of posts, under the header “Defining Roles” in which I’ll discuss the performances of some of my favourite actors / actresses across their careers, not just on screen but across all mediums.
Therefore there seemed no better place to start than with Benedict Cumberbatch himself and below are my 10 favourite roles from his career so far. For me, these are his defining roles, as they capture the range of such a versatile actor, both emotionally, physically and tonally, but also across stage, screen and radio. I can certainly say it’s been a tough choice!
1. James – Third Star (2010)
For me, this remains the most powerful role of Benedict Cumberbatch’s career to date. With his star on the rise, it was great that he was involved in this small independent film. James has terminal cancer and has a wish to once more visit Barafundle Bay with his three lifelong friends. It’s a beautifully moving film, as we see over their journey secrets confessed, feelings addressed and how important strong friendships are in life.
Benedict superbly brings James to life, as he deals with the anger, fear and sadness at not having more time, while also being determined to treasure each and every moment he has left, with those he cares about most. It is a performance that makes me laugh and cry and appreciate the joy of true friendships. If you have yet to see Third Star, you really need to do so.
2. Stephen Hawking – Hawking (BBC TV, 2004)
It still astonishes me a decade on that this incredible performance of Stephen Hawking did not win Benedict a BAFTA (this was his first nomination). The 90 minute BBC drama takes us through Hawking’s life, from the age of 21 to the completion of his PhD on the revolutionary idea of The Big Bang two years later and was the first time I’d ever considered his life as a young man, rather than the image we all have of him as he is today. To deliver such a strong, powerful performance so early in his career should have left no one with any doubt that he would go on to be a success.
Over the course of the drama we see Hawking’s illness begin to take a firmer hold on him as he carries on with such fierce determination. Everything about this performance is impressive, its physicality, wit, intelligence and vulnerability are all so realistically conveyed that by the end I’d almost forgotten I wasn’t watching Hawking himself. I will certainly be curious to see how Eddie Redmayne’s upcoming portrayal compares to this one.
3. Christopher Tietjens – Parade’s End (BBC/HBO, 2012)
If asked in interviews what his favourite role has been to date, Benedict himself has singled out Christopher Tietjens and I can understand why, as it’s a truly stunning character and performance by him. I’ve tried to read this novel in the past and never made it to the end (I must try again in 2015) and having it brought to life in Tom Stoppard’s incredible adaptation was fantastic.
He is not a straightforward character and through the role we see a man caught in no man’s land between old and new England and his struggle to do what is right according to his moral compass, even when at odds with those around him and possibly at the expense of his own happiness. The scene in which he describes the trenches to Silvia is heart wrenching and truly highlights how the experience affected the brave men who were there. Then there is his relationships with Silvia and the forward-thinking Valentine, with whom his chemistry leaps from the screen. Utterly beautiful from start to finish.
4. Sherlock Holmes – Sherlock (BBC, since 2010)
Undoubtably his most well known role remains that of Sherlock Holmes, which has helped propel his rise of recent years up the Hollywood A-list. I love the show and am thrilled at both its success and the success that has followed for its superb ensemble cast. Growing up with the image of Sherlock as an old Victorian figure, Cumberbatch’s portrayal has revitalised the character for a new generation. It enables him to showcase his ability to tackle drama, heightened emotion, comedy and even action through an incredibly interesting and multi-layered character and it is certainly one of his defining roles, which I hope will carry on for years to come.
5. David Scott-Fowler – After The Dance (National Theatre, 2010)
After The Dance will forever have a special place in my heart and remains my favourite of all the theatre productions I have seen to date. It was also my first experience of seeing Mr Cumberbatch on stage and I’m so pleased I was able to see it twice over its limited run.
At its heart, the play is about love – the sadness of loving the wrong person, loving someone who you do not think loves you or to whom you dare not admit your true feelings or loving someone enough to realise the best thing for them is to walk away from them. It is this aspect of the play which has such an impact on me and very few pieces of theatre I have seen have moved me quite so much. I still find it incredible how Benedict seems to transform into someone so much older than himself in this role. As David Scott-Fowler he not only looks older, but through his voice, mannerisms and the way he holds himself, you cannot quite believe it is the same person. The final act requires a great deal of emotion from him and he conveys it all superbly and you can’t take your eyes off him for a moment. You can read my full review here.
6. Jimmy Porter – Look Back In Anger (The Royal Court’s Playwright’s Playwrights season at Duke of York’s Theatre, 2012)
Another stage role that truly impressed me and again made me appreciate the joy of live performance was Benedict’s involvement in the Royal Court Theatre’s Playwright’s Playwrights one off rehearsed reading of John Osbourne’s Look Back In Anger, in which he played the lead role of Jimmy Porter, alongside Rebecca Hall as his wife, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matt Ryan and Julian Wadham. For anyone yet to experience a rehearsed reading, the actors simply sit on the stage, script in hand and read the play, this time with only a day to prepare. There is some physicality depending on the role and the actor but no set, costume and limited props and it’s an interesting experience for anyone with a love of theatre to see.
What made this a defining role for me was that it wasn’t a role I’d imagined him playing, but yet by the end I would have signed up to fund a full production! All the cast were excellent, particularly Rebecca Hall, whose chemistry with Cumberbatch made the prospect of Parade’s End even more exciting at the time. However Benedict truly made this more than a reading. He didn’t have a bound, hardback script and was constantly on his feet, folding the pages over on his paper copy, giving as much performance as there could be, bringing a depth to the deeply unlikeable Porter. He is cruel, hurtful and treats those around him dreadfully and yet Cumberbatch was able to bring out the more vulnerable side to him as well. It highlighted yet again how talented he is and how he doesn’t need all the trimmings of a production to create very real, powerful characters.
7. Alan Turing – The Imitation Game (2014)
It may not be the performance of his career for me, but his role as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game is still superb and worthy of the praise and attention it is receiving from critics and filmgoers alike. It is certainly a role which I cannot imagine any other actor of today being able to play.
Having little to go on as to Turing’s voice, mannerisms etc. the role needed an actor capable of creating something completely believable and true to the man being portrayed and Cumberbatch does this so perfectly. His Turing is a loner by nature, uncomfortable with social interaction and far more at ease focussing on logic and statistics. One of the skills he is always able to bring to a role is the ability to convey so much internal emotion and thought with little or no dialogue. There are moments in The Imitation Game where you simply look in to his eyes and can see everything Turing is considering, discarding, confused by or struggling to cope with and this certainly makes you care about the man himself. You can read my full review of the film here.
8. “John Harrison” – Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)
When it was announced that Benedict Cumberbatch was to be the villain in the new Star Trek film there was excitement and some uncertainty as to whether he was the right fit for a blockbuster action film of this scale. I thought this film was brilliant and that his portrayal of “John Harrison” lifted its overall quality level. This isn’t just a two-dimensional villain and Cumberbatch is able to convey the rationale for his actions in such a way that the audience actually begins to understand his motivations. It’s also a brilliantly simmering performance, as you are constantly waiting for Harrison to erupt and Benedict is able to sustain this anticipation as his calm, clinical villain bides his time until his full rage emerges. A smart, mature role in a genre where you perhaps weren’t expecting it.
9. The Monster – Frankenstein (National Theatre, 2011)
There were aspects of Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein that I didn’t like (some of the script and certain supporting characters felt weak and wooden), but the central performances by Jonny Lee Miller and Benedict Cumberbatch, combined with the clever idea to have them swap roles each day, lifted this production to be better than in lesser hands it perhaps could have been. I managed to see both versions live and although both were enjoyable, it was the “Cumber Creature” that impressed me the most and that’s a testament to Mr Cumberbatch seeing as I saw the very first preview performance. It’s always thrilling to be among the first audience to see a new play and there was certainly lots of anticipation in the Olivier that night. The role of the Creature is undoubtably the tougher of the two, requiring the actor to effectively move through all stages of life over the course of the evening.
Watching Benedict emerge from the cocoon on stage and spend the next 20 minutes convincingly embodying a newly born creature, twitching and testing its limbs and vocal chords was simply astonishing (and no that’s not because of the lack of clothes, which must have been daunting for both actors!). He achieved a difficult task in the role, in that I sympathised with the Creature and despite his later horrifying actions, was still able to see how the prejudices of those around him ultimately led to what he becomes, from the innocent newborn of 90 minutes before. It’s wonderful that through NT Live Encore more and more people have been able to see this production.
10. Captain Martin Crieff – Cabin Pressure (BBC Radio 2008 – 2014)
Making my final choice was a difficult one, with so many other impressive roles to pick from. In the end I have chosen a role vastly lighter in tone, in the form of Martin Crieff in John Finnemore’s wonderfully entertaining Radio 4 comedy series Cabin Pressure. Beginning in 2008, I only discovered it in 2011 and was lucky enough to go along to a recording of it in London that year. The hilarity is set at MJN Air, a one-plane charter airline run by Carolyn Knapp-Shappey (Stephanie Cole). Alongside her in this venture is her crew of Crieff and First Officer Douglas Richardson (the superbly talented Roger Allam), not to mention the hopeless Arthur (played by Finnemore himself). The series was a success in its own right but unsurprisingly, the growing attention on Cumberbatch has also brought a whole new audience to this radio drama (ticket requests for the recording of its final episode broke records). It’s a refreshing change of tone and pace for him, which allows the thrill of live performance but the benefit of repeat takes.
Finnemore’s writing is witty, sharp and heartfelt as MJN Air is ultimately a little family unit with all the usual family dynamics and it’s lovely that Benedict has made sure he continued with it until the very end, highlighting that it’s not just about Hollywood movies for him. Being able to see this recorded live was a real treat and as I’ve sensibly saved some episodes for later listening, meaning I still have a few hours left of Cabin Pressure to enjoy leading up to the final episode, to be aired on BBC Radio 4 this Christmas. If you want something to make you laugh and raise your spirits I can’t recommend it enough.
So…..that’s my list. Those that almost made it include Patrick Watts from Starter For Ten (2006), Wallace from short film Little Favour (2013), Little Charles from August: Osage County (2013) and for something very different Smaug from The Hobbit series.
I’m sure people will have there own views, which will no doubt differ from mine, but that’s one of the joys of an actor capable of great range and variety. I’m also sure this list will continue to evolve over his career, with already some exciting prospects on the horizon (Marvel’s Doctor Strange, Hamlet on stage – see my fantasy cast here and Richard III for the BBC Hollow Crown series to name just three). I look forward to hearing your choices!
Coming next, one of the actresses I have admired for years and whose career seems to only keep going up – Gillian Anderson.