Monday, 14 July 2014

Utopia Series 2 hits the screens tonight


Twisty-turning consipiracy thriller Utopia is back for a second series, starting tonight on Channel 4.

In a typical convention-defying move, the first episode of the new series takes us back to before the first series took place, starring one Rose Leslie taking on the Milner role, four decades earlier.

"As a really big fan of the first season, I thought it was a brilliant idea," said Leslie. "It basically takes us back to the 1970s and shows us where it all began. We get to see Milner as a young woman, and we get to see why she turns into this ruthless killer. And we see what happens to Carvel as well, and how Jessica and Arby come to be. I was completely hooked by the concept. It’s really a stand-alone episode, and a real treat for the fans."

"What’s terrifying is, playing her for a full month, you can see the reasoning, you can see where she’s coming from. They’re doing it for the greater good. They’re doing it for the longevity of our species, giving it the chance to thrive. You can totally get swept up in that. But then you see the lines start to blur, you see what she has to do to make things happen. They can’t afford to have friends, they can’t trust anyone, they have to commit the most terrible acts. That makes you step back and think. But that’s the beauty of Dennis Kelly – he writes it in such a beautiful way, you’re able to see both sides of the argument."

Adeel Akhtar will be returning as the excellently named Wilson Wilson. He said of Utopia's return: "The things which you liked about it in the first series are all there again. All the themes it was exploring are back again. The characters are taken further along their overall arc. It’s really interesting to see where each of the characters goes in this series. It really is pretty unexpected. It stays a few steps ahead of the audience in that sense.

"The journey that Wilson has to go on in the second series is a real challenge. There was a familiarity to it, but just because there’s a familiarity doesn’t make something easier. From an acting viewpoint, this series was a real challenge. But yeah, it was nice to be back with other cast members, and to be back with Marc [Munden, the director].

Utopia series 2 is split over six episodes.

Friday, 27 June 2014

5 films that could follow in Fargo's footsteps and be transferred to TV

Turning a 18 year old crime film into a TV series may initially have seemed an odd decision, but the results proved it was a canny choice after all - the recently concluded Fargo received plenty of plaudits for wittily combining dense plotting, interesting characters and fine acting, with a generous helping of violence.

But are there any UK crime films of yesteryear ripe for the TV series treatment? Here are our pick of five British films that are prime pickings for the TV market:

Skyfall

Skyfall was the UK's biggest ever film and plenty of fun to watch, so simply following it up with another Bond film feels like a wasted opportunity, frankly. A TV series of Bond has plenty of potential, though it would have to work hard to avoid becoming a Jack Bauer knock off. And then there's the problem of casting - would you really expect Daniel Craig to sign up for a TV series too? In a nutshell, no. So why not a series centred on Q? Or another relatively minor character in the Bond set up, with Bond making a few fleeting appearances – like Nick Fury in Marvel's Agents of Shield?

Get Carter

The grim crime classic from 1971 sees Michael Caine go up to Newcastle to investigate and then avenge his brother's death. There's episodic potential in uncovering the seedy crime world of his home town, but in many ways it feels like Happy Valley might have pipped it to the post in its unflinching violence and crime up north centred on a strong family concept. In fact it wouldn't take that big a leap of imagination to see Sarah Lancashire take on the Michael Caine role in Get Carter following the critically lauded Happy Valley. And then there's the fact that a TV version of Get Carter would help banish the Sylvester Stallone starring film remake from our heads.

Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels 
Admittedly, following some research, it turns out this has already been done - back in 2000, a mere two years after the film was released - a six episode series was broadcast on Channel Four. And what do you know, one Martin Freeman starred in two episodes. Would returning to the concept another 14 years on be worth a thought? Or maybe a series out of the likes of Snatch? Maybe Fargo will reinvigorate the appetite for such a series.

Brighton Rock
Graham Greene's crime novel has been translated into film twice, the first famed for Richard Attenborough's portrayal of Pinkie and - for fellow geeks - for William Hartnell playing his right hand man. The story has moral complexity as Pinkie manipulates a witness to his evil deeds into a potential spouse and there's room to expand on the unpleasant deeds that make Pinkie so fearsome. And there's a period setting, the likes of which the BBC pulls off regularly to great effect in dramas like Peaky Blinders and Ripper Street. But would it be likely to be more adaptation than inspiration a la Fargo?

Sexy Beast
Sun, swearing, crime, Ray Winstone in budgie smugglers and a terrifying performance from Sir Ben Kingsley… Sexy Beast is the kind of film that endures in the memory, but would it make a good series? Using the film as a spring board, as the Fargo series does- rather than slavishly follow the same plot line - there's plenty of potential for stories based around a criminal going straight, or trying to, with a persuasive former associate dragging them back, virtually kicking and screaming, to perform another job.

How about Italian Job? Layer Cake? Or maybe Croupier?

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Complaining about violence on the TV seems refreshingly old fashioned

Is TV getting too violent? It's a complaint as old as, well, TV.

Fears that there's too much violence/swearing/sex/delete as appropriate on TV have been voiced throughout the history of the humble telly box. Who could forget the bespectacled Mary Whitehouse's headline grabbing complaints throughout the '70s and '80s, aimed at the behind-the-sofa antics of Doctor Who, among others, fearing it would irrevocably hurt tiny impressionable minds.

Has the debate moved on now that we're in the enlightened 21st Century?

With the advent of the internet in the trouser pocket of every Tom, Dick or Harry as well as ever improving visual effects - no longer the red paint blood of Hammer Horror - the barriers of taste and decency are not so much hard to police as almost impossible to get close enough to slip the handcuffs on. Even the government has been wading in to try to grapple with the topic of making internet providers force customers to opt in to allow porn, for example.

So complaining about violence on TV seems almost refreshly old fashioned. A bit like Sherbert Dib Dabs and tank tops. TV violence is a far simpler matter than the miscellaneous horrors of the internet (ED: like this blog?). Here violence is deliberately written into scripts, filmed and then broadcast.

But those offended by TV violence should just switch over and stop moaning? Sounds like a sound argument, so long as the violence is post watershed (is watershed an old fashioned term too, with the advent of iPlayer, Sky+ and On Demand?). Then you'd best turn over The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Happy Valley, Line of Duty...

The weird thing about violence is how quickly you get used to it. In a televisual sense, of course. Not only do I probably live a thankfully sheltered life but according to UK statistics, most of us are not hugely likely to see violence in the flesh. Unless you have a penchant for the Next sales.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

About me

In short: I've been writing for money for over a decade, in the worlds of bicycles, power tools & DIY and video games.

You can find me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JonHarker and Linked In

Slightly longer version: I've spent over a decade in the world of newspapers and magazines. I'm the current editor of Torque Magazine and am also freelancing in the cycle world. Prior to that I was editor of UK trade mag and site BikeBiz for eight years. That followed a stint as deputy editor of UK video game mag MCV and two years heading the in-house trade mag of the official UK Xbox distributor.

Even longer version, in the unlikely event you want one:
 For me, it's always been about writing. One of my earliest writing memories is skipping PE lessons at the age of eight to finish off a convoluted science fiction space opera, which has since 'sadly' been lost.

I went on to gain a degree in English and after an office job or two I gravitated back to the world of writing and publishing at a local newspaper, where I worked in the distribution office, checking up on newspaper deliverers. A couple of years later and I landed my first job writing words for actual money – editing an in-house magazine for the UK's official Xbox distributor.

Sticking with the video games world, I became deputy editor of business to business title MCV. Soon after I grabbed the chance to become editor of bicycle industry mag and website BikeBiz (with the same publisher) tackling topics like British manufacturing, the survival of local independent shops, government commitment to cycling and plenty more. Most recently I joined Torque Magazine as editor.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Jamaica Inn causes the nation to forget how to turn on subtitles

Citizens of the UK, lend me your ears.

Do you need me to speak up a bit? Fear not, I am typing in a South East England dialect, near as damn it to received pronunciation, so you should be able to hear me at the back. Not in, you'll be pleased to hear, a Cornish accent which is impenetrable, according to the 2,200 people who complained to the BBC about not understanding the dialogue in the recent drama serial Jamaica Inn.

More precisely, the complaints centred on "mumbled dialogue" from the actors throughout the Daphne Du Maurier adaptation, which was broadcast over three consecutive nights this week. Clearly these viewers don't know they're born - or have at least have never watched Apocalypse Now and been subjected to some epic mumbling from Marlon Brando, or negotiated Bane's dialogue in the Batman finale Dark Night Rises.

Perhaps most troubling of all is the conclusion these thousands of complaints suggest - that the nation doesn't know how to turn the subtitles on.

One thing is for sure, finding the subtitles button is at least more troublesome than complaining to the BBC. 

Source: Jamaica Inn ends with 2,200 complaints about mumbling (BBC)

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

New TV for 2014: Line of Duty, Blandings, Babylon

There are plenty of new TV commissions arriving on our collective screens in the coming weeks, including BBC police corruption drama Line of Duty, which is back for a second series.

The first series averaged 4.2 million viewers, which makes it BBC Two's biggest new drama series in a decade. No surprise that it's back then? Maybe not - if you watched the show you'll have noticed that *very mild spoiler alert* the first series was based around the character of Tony Gates, played by Lenny James, who was under investigation for corruption. By necessity, series two will cover a different officer in the frame for dodgy practises - DI Lindsay Denton, played by Keely Hawes.


Comedy Blandings, based on the work of PG Wodehouse, is back for a second series too. Timothy Spall, Jennifer Saunders and Jack Farthing return alongside Tim Vine for seven-episodes, adapted by Guy Andrews.


Danny Boyle-directed Babylon is a brand new series for Channel 4 based around the Met police, taking what is termed a 'wry look at the people and politics in the command rooms and the frontlines' of the police force. Written by Peep Show creators Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, and starring Jimmy Nesbitt, Paterson Joseph and Jill Halfpenny, this is surely going to get a lot of attention when it arrives in Q1.