The King review

David Michod’s The King combines different Shakespeare plays to deliver a lengthy historical tale that is light on action but big on human drama. Timothee Chalamet flexes his acting muscles, which are many and varied, while Joel Edgerton lends humorous support as Falstaff.

Netflix’s The King has been highly anticipated. Boasting big names and an even bigger budget, its a cinematic gem in scope and talent but it lacks in emotional depth and spectacle punch, leaving the feature a little lacklustre in finish. Reviews have, understandably, been varied. Some love it while others loathe it. Michod is a celebrated director in the independent realm, delivering Animal Kingdom and The Rover which were both met with unarguable acclaim. Here, it’s as though the championed director is slightly out of his depth, delivering a narrative that is disjointed and clunky and, at times, hard to follow.

Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is the treasure of the piece. Combining beautiful green landscapes with moody sunsets, the land becomes a character and one you can’t help but marvel over. The action is slim on the ground here but the one battle scene that does feature is suitably disorientating, shot in the murky mud of a French battleground. The camera comes in close, demonstrating the claustrophobic horror of 15th century warfare; both unforgiving and feral.

Many have questioned Chalamet’s validity as a leading man of this calibre, but here he shows himself as an actor of depth, one who can match the very best as he stands shoulder to shoulder alongside peers Ben Mendelsohn and Edgerton. Every performance is stellar, including the wonderful Sean Harris who’s star turn is a joy to watch.

While The King is too long and lends itself (if unintentionally) to genre cliches, terrific cinematography and talented acting save it from the depths of poor period drama.

Mental health and me

When I realised it was World Mental Health Day I felt a pang of unease, a strange feeling of being unsettled. I know this is because I’m currently on the waiting list for six weeks of talking therapy and twelve weeks of CBT for anxiety. The course of CBT will be my third and the second related to anxiety. 

When I think about my mental health, I think of it in terms of a journey. One which I’ve been on since the age of 11. There have been highs and lows, like in all aspects of life, and after fourteen years of OCD and anxiety, and associated spells of depression, I feel grateful that, for the first time in my life, I have the ability to look at my personal journey through a new lens. And, as odd as it might sound, that lens is glossed with optimism. 

After years of ignoring my mental health and not taking care of myself I am now in a place where I care about my own wellbeing, I talk openly about how I’m feeling, and I actively seek to make positive change. For the first time I understand how long I’ve spent living under a cloud of shame and guilt, carried heavily on my shoulders because of years of stigma. I alone have not carried the burden of this stigma, but alongside the one in four of us who experience mental illness of some form. And alongside my family and devoted friends who have chosen to love me, support me, and stick with me, no matter what. 

As I wait for my treatment to begin I think about all of the times, since turning 18, I have let my mental illness win and what I have lost when that has happened. From my relationship, to my dream job, to a life in London. Every time I’ve lost something I’ve felt defeated and broken and in turn I placed myself, willingly, in a pit of self-loathing. I spent ten years of my adolescence and early adulthood believing I was not worthy of anyone’s love. When I left London I thought I had totally failed. I previously, deliberately, physically hurt myself. I say this not for sympathy, but because I can’t tell you how grateful I am to sit here today and know that those beliefs were bonkers. I sit here knowing I will never willingly hurt myself again. What 2019 has taught me, is that every time this illness tries to attack – and win – I get back up and I begin again. And every time that happens, the recovery process gets quicker. 

For the first time I practice self love. I have a beautiful group of funny, caring friends who know that these low waves that come as surely as anything else in life, will pass, that they don’t define me. I understand that my anxiety and OCD is just one part of me, not all. And that part? It’s really small. I get good sleep. I read lots of books. I meditate. 

I’m finally in the business of taking care of myself.

I hope this round of treatment will be my last, but who knows? If it isn’t, then I’m 100% willing to keep falling down, in order to keep standing back up again.

The OA season two review

The OA, Netflix’s bizarre, otherworldly drama, first appeared on our screens in 2016. It was a whirlwind ride of near death experiences, strange dance moves and teenage angst that ended on a cliffhanger which allowed it to transcend its mythical realm and echo terrifying real life trauma. Cut to three years later and the series has finally made its eagerly-anticipated return but it’s more confusing than ever and strangely detached from its predecessor.

Brit Marling’s sci-fi drama series was gone so long that, much to the relief of its returning fans, it began with a lengthy reminder of what took place in season one. We were collectively reminded of Marling’s Prairie / OA, a beguiling young woman who returns to her small town after disappearing for seven years. Season one mixed two major storylines: flashbacks to OA‘s life as Hap‘s (a brilliant Jason Isaacs) prisoner and her new life in the present among a mismatched group of outsiders. The formula worked well but series two loses itself to big budget moments, forgoing the touching dialogue and in-depth study of human nature that season one thrived on. Instead, this new incarnation takes us on a confusing journey towards giant octopus, interactive games and mysterious houses. It’s still engulfing as a narrative, but feels, oddly, like a totally different creation from that of the first season. The only moments that echo the first, in terms of direction and narrative tropes, are the three episodes that centre around BBA, Steve and gang, and the whole piece suffers because of this.MV5BZjVhYTMyYTktZGFhMi00M2ZmLTlhMTAtZWM2NzNiZDkwYmZlXkEyXkFqcGdeQWFybm8@._V1_CR0,68,3600,2025_AL_UX477_CR0,0,477,268_AL_

While the effects are impressive, and something to be marvelled at, they don’t feel as though they belong in this piece. Series one was so gritty and played on this idea that certain aspects could indeed happen; it mixed harrowing drama with fantastical elements and turned out something that scared us with a strange kind of sci-fi realism. Series two loses touch with its humanity, instead focusing on seemingly unrelated (not to mention unexplained) sub-plots. While the season suffers because of this, it redeems itself with the return of the fabulous Phyllis Smith and the introduction of Kingsley Ben Adir as new character Karim. The best moments of this suspend-your-belief series come from both actors and Adir is a total joy to watch as he steps his way to stardom. There are moments of horror in this new series too, but not the real-life kind, the best-of-the-genre kind. The slow-creeping dread and jolting scares are effective and enjoyable and make for a welcome addition to a show that tries to cram a lot of unnecessary moments into what was, initially, a relatively simple starting point.

The OA is still an interesting watch; Brit Marling is a fierce talent as writer, actor and producer, alongside artistic partner Zal Batmanglij. The pair dive deeper into the unknown, exploring the multiverse with probing interest which translates enthusiastically, if a little confusingly. The heart of this show lies with OA‘s motley crew from series one and with not one scene shared in series two comes a lack of sentimentality, not to mention apathy.

Still intriguing, if a little misjudged, The OA will return for a third series but will its viewers? I for one am no longer sure.

Mayans M.C. – season one review

Kurt Sutter’s fascination with motorcycle clubs continues with Mayans M.C., a spin-off from the immensely popular Sons of Anarchy. In this new iteration we’re placed with the Mayans, a drug-running charter based in the fictional town of Santo Padre involved in the dealings of dangerous cartel family the Galindo’s.

Fans of Sons of Anarchy will already be familiar with the Mayans who were at first rivals, then allies, of Jax Teller and co’. Emilio Rivera returns to the fictional world as Alvarez, the Padrino of the M.C., alongside brand new characters and one or two cameos from familiar faces. The series’ main character – essentially Charlie Hunnam’s equivalent here – is EZ Reyes, a Mayans prospect, played by J. D. Pardo. Other memorable performances include Richard Cabral as Coco and the brilliant Clayton Cardenas as EZ’s brother Angel

The Sons ran guns, the Mayans run drugs. Both are questionable career choices but Sutter is careful to demonstrate that his club members are only in it for the money and actually care about their communities. Honest. This theme was more prominent in SOA with real focus on the Teller family’s loyalty to Charming. The biggest challenge any spin-off faces is in successfully forging itself as stand-alone. While Mayans M.C. is entertaining drama it’s difficult to create a set of characters as beguiling as those in Sons and struggles slightly because of this.

Much like its predecessor Mayans M.C. is blood-soaked, drug-addled fare featuring scantily clad women and testosterone-fuelled fights. What it’s missing is SOA’s thought-provoking exploration of masculinity and male friendship and its deeply-rooted themes of brotherhood. Instead it serves up a highly watchable series that treads new ground, looks visually impressive and introduces likeable characters. It’s highly unrealistic and will offend some, but take it at face value and it’s actually a lot of fun.

Sutter’s new series is not yet of the calibre of SOA, but there is plenty of time for that.

Sex Education review

Sex Education, Netflix’s newest original series, follows a group of sixth form students as they discover the joys and misadventures that come with having sex. Created by Laura Nunn and starring a string of fresh faces, the comedy-drama is pitch-perfect and completely of the moment.

There is an appealing universal nature to Sex Education, with its effective balancing of timely themes (abortion, masculinity and sexual orientation) and a whiff of the surreal, giving it the chance to speak to both men and women. It’s entirely adult in nature and not for younger audiences, but its exploration of sex holds a genuine relatability that older audience members – who this was made for – will, undoubtedly, find refreshing.

Similar in ways to Skins but much funnier and less inescapably depressing – as well as being embedded in more realism and less cliched drama – Sex Education encompasses a fantastic Britishness while embracing an 80’s American aesthetic. Also, much like Skins, it’s successfully providing a platform for a plethora of young, talented actors, many of whom put in star turns here.

Asa Butterfield leads the ensemble as Otis, a sixteen year old boy coping with rising sexual pressures as he embarks on his first year at sixth form. Butterfield is simply fantastic; relatable, funny, likeable, sweet, slightly weird – as a viewer you can’t help but root for him. This, in itself, is a feat of great serial storytelling. It’s not often – even with the very best of television – that you can binge-watch a series and not find one annoyance with the main character but, with Butterfield’s Otis, this really is the case.

Asa is supported by Ncuti Gatwa (Eric) and Emma Mackey (Maeve), as well as Gillian Anderson; an acting pro who here shows off her knack for delivering understated comedy. The four put in equally memorable performances but it’s Eric‘s story that holds the most emotional depth. With a want not to give anything away, his journey as a gay man with a penchant for styling feminine attire is thoughtfully developed and deeply moving and Gatwa gives an unforgettable breakout performance.

Sex Education is intelligently penned, fiercely relevant and confidently acted cementing it as Netflix’s best original series in recent memory.

The Long Song review

The first of the BBC’s December TV highlights was The Long Song. Screened over three nights last week, the adaptation of Andrea Levy’s book follows July, a young woman born into slavery in Jamaica. A strong ensemble cast bring the source material to life in what must, surely, be the best mini series of 2018.

Hayley Atwell stars alongside rising star Tamara Lawrance, while Jack Lowden (of Dunkirk fame) supports. Episode one features a must-see guest spot from the brilliant Lenny Henry, almost unrecognisable in his transformation here. Director Mahalia Belo has stayed true to Levy’s mode of storytelling in that The Long Song is a story of slavery that doesn’t showcase extreme violence, thus in turn limiting its audience, but instead creates a moving human drama that pulls an audience in with its accessibility. That’s not to say this is an easy watch, but more to point to the fact that Levy and screen writer Sarah Williams craft a very important story – fiction supported by fact – that studies its characters and the ways in which they adapt to survive in a terrain that is wholeheartedly against them.

The series is a true feat of storytelling that so masterfully blends brilliant humour with gut-wrenching cruelty. As we watch July, over three episodes, we see a story of survival against the odds, one that is filled with unthinkable horror but also a constant glimmer of hope. It’s haunting, deeply moving, powerfully acted. I was immersed in every single second.

A study of human nature, you’ll be both shocked to the core and moved to tears as the final days of slavery are put to the screen in a drama that is an absolute must-see. The only way to end this review is to say; please, everyone, watch this stunning series. You will be richer for it, I promise.

What do you want to be when you grow up?

The most widely asked question of any adolescent is ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’. The importance of knowing where our life is going, and who we’re going to become, is ingrained in us from an early age. I went through a few ideas. An archeologist (courtesy of Tomb Raider); the lead singer in a pop-punk band (inspired by Hayley Williams, obviously); a doctor (it looked so exciting in ER); and, well, a grown up. The youngest of four children I yearned to be older so I could be a part of the fun they were all having.

Recently I’ve been catching myself saying ‘when I grow up I want to…’ or, ‘when I’m an adult…’ and then I realise I am grown up. But the biggest question I have now is not ‘what do I want to be?’ but ‘when will I feel like I’m grown up?’ Because, to be frank, I have no idea what I’m doing. When I look at my Facebook and Instagram feed I see pictures of people my age doing genuinely adult things like buying houses, or traveling the world. Meanwhile, I still eat coco pops for breakfast and, when left unsupervised, an entire pack of biscuits. My only direct debit is to Spotify, and I also spontaneously leave jobs that don’t make me happy with no thought of the future. That’s OK, right? I’m telling myself this is OK.

An aside about the perks of being an apparent grown up:

You can have breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast and no one is going to tell you off. You can go to gigs and it isn’t necessary to hide bottles of water filled with vodka in the bushes outside because, get this, you are old enough to buy it yourself. Nice people you’ve never met give you overdrafts so you can still go on holiday if you have no real money. You meet all of these quirky, cool, like-minded people and you find who you belong with.

Without sounding like the title of a Britney Spears film (which, FYI, is so worth watching) there is this thing I am experiencing called a crossroads. When you’re an enthusiastic teenager teachers and parents and careers advisors forget to tell you that even if you know what you want to be it might not work out. Stuff like mental health gets in the way. The ability to afford to take unpaid opportunities that could eventually, maybe lead to a dream job. Doing what you really thought was what you wanted and then realising it is so not what you wanted after all. Being happy in something and having it taken away because, well, you were only temporary. That is the crux of navigating adult life.

All of this to say, I’m 24 years old and I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But what I do know is, through mental illness, maxed-out overdrafts, difficult times, and truly brilliant times, until the moment when we, individually, finally feel grown up, everything is totally fine.