Posts Tagged ‘television’

By John Ruberry

Earlier this month Season Six of the BBC gangster drama, Peaky Blinders, began streaming on Netflix.

The show centers on a Birmingham Romani organized crime family, the Shelbys, and the leader of that gang, Tommy Shelby (Cillian Murphy). He’s a World War I veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome, who manages to build a business empire, while getting elected to Parliament as a member of the Labour Party.

This will be the final season of Peaky Blinders, although a movie is said to be in the works.

The next two paragraphs contain some Season 5 and 6 spoilers.

During Season 5 a new major character, Oswald Mosley (Sam Claflin), a Birmingham member of Parliament like Tommy Shelby, is introduced. He’s the founder of a British fascist party–and Mosley was a real person. Shelby’s relationship with Mosley is complicated, which fits the show as the plot lines are anything but simplistic. Shelby’s plot to assassinate Mosley–the real Oswald died of natural causes in 1980–is foiled by the Irish Republican Army. The IRA kills the would-be assassin and other member of the Peaky Blinders, the “muscle” end of the Shelby operation.

While Tommy is the leader of the gang, his aunt, Elizabeth Pollyanna “Polly” Shelby Gray (Helen McCrory), was the glue of the enterprise, formally known as Shelby Family Limited. But McCrory died at 52 of lung cancer in 2021, just as production of this season started. Other than Tommy Shelby, Aunt Polly was the most important character in Peaky Blinders. Her off-screen death was a tough blow for the show. To compensate, the role of Tommy’s sister, Ada Thorne (Sophie Rundle), is elevated, but Rundle is placed in an impossible position. Meanwhile, Polly’s son, Michael Gray (Finn Cole), holds Tommy responsible for Polly’s murder.

Also back in Season 5, another new character Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy), Michael’s wife, makes her debut. We learn in the new season that Gina is the niece of South Boston gangster Jack Nelson (James Frecheville). He’s a not-too-thinly disguised characterization of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr. Like the patriarch of the Kennedy dynasty, Nelson has anti-Semitic and fascist leanings. Calm down my liberal friends, it’s true about Kennedy. With Prohibition over, Tommy and Nelson hope to offset the end of it by smuggling opium into Boston. 

Mosley has a new lover, Lady Diana Mitford (Amber Anderson). She declares herself to Ada, in cruder terms, as a bisexual but she also has her eyes on Tommy. The real Mitfort was the first cousin of Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine. Unless this plotline is being saved for the Peaky Blinders movie, I am stupefied why this angle wasn’t developed into the storyline. The future wartime leader, amazingly is portrayed by three actors over the six seasons, makes a cameo appearance in Season 6. 

Season 5 ends and Season 6 begins with Tommy wallowing in mud. And mud is fitting metaphor for this season, while good, falls short of the greatness of Peaky Blinders, although I didn’t care for the Russian diversion in Season 3. The final episode of this last season, nearly 90 minutes long, is the best, as Tommy’s older brother, Arthur (Paul Anderson), emerges somewhat from his alcohol and drug induced haze as the Shelbys face a two-front war. A third front of sorts is there too as Tommy’s marriage with Lizzie (Natasha O’Keeffe) faces challenges. 

In regard to Nelson, Season 6 would have been much more interesting if instead Joseph P. Kennedy was the Boston foil for Tommy.

Surprisingly, while the show continues with a dark and gothic soundtrack, the unofficial theme song, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “Red Right Hand” is sadly missing. But arguably the worst song Bob Dylan ever recorded, “All The Tired Horses,” covered by Lisa O’Neill, is included.

All six seasons of Peaky Blinders are currently streaming on Netflix. It is rated TV-MA for nudity, drug use, foul language, and violence. 

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Within the last month two new seasons of Viking-themed series began streaming on Netflix, Vikings: Valhalla and Season Five of The Last Kingdom. The former is a sequel to another Netflix series, Vikings, which I have not seen, but as the action of Valhalla occurs about 100 years after the first batch of shows, viewers need not have tuned in to Vikings to follow the new action.

The Last Kingdom and Vikings: Valhalla have much in common, besides Scandinavians battling the English. A main plot driver in both shows is the conflict between Christians and followers of the Norse gods. Presumably Valhalla begins the same year, 1016, when Canute the Great seized the crown of England. Ironically, only two English kings, Alfred, who is played by David Dawson in the first three seasons of The Last Kingdom, and Canute, gained the epithet “the Great.” Oh, when Canute was crowned, this Viking, who later became king of Norway and Denmark, was a Christian.

Both shows attempt to be even-handed between the two cultures, but they leave out one very nasty part of Viking life, slavery. Yes, there was slavery among Christian Europeans, but slaves–thralls are what the Norse called them–were an essential part of the spoils of Viking raids. However, both series portray human sacrifice by the Scandinavians.

Vikings: Valhalla, which consists of eight episodes, is the inferior of the two shows, so let’s get that one out of our way. Its central character is Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett). Yeah, he’s the same man who journeyed to North America around 1000. While there is no historical record that says Erikson participated in wars with the English, there’s no proof that he didn’t. It’s believed around the time of his journey to North America he converted to Christianity, but he’s a follower of the Norse gods here, although he dabbles with the Christian religion. His sister, Freydís Eiríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson), is a devout follower of the Norse faith. Freydís is romantically involved with Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), who history tells us was a newborn at the time of they were “getting it on” in the show.

The main action of Vikings: Valhalla originates in the Norwegian town of Kattegat, which is ruled by Jarl Haakon (Caroline Henderson), who history tells us was a white man, but here Haakon is a black woman.

I could go on for quite much longer on the many historical anomalies, but I will conclude here that had Vikings: Valhalla had an intriguing story line, if the performances were compelling–Henderson’s overacting is particularly annoying–and hey, if the CG was believable, then I’d say, “tune in.”

But don’t.

The Last Kingdom’s fifth last season takes place around 920. Its lead character, the fictional Uhtred, whose birthright as lord of Bebbanburg in Northumbia, England was usurped by the Danes in the first episode of Season One. He was raised by Danes, during that time he abandoned Christianity for the Norse gods, although he’s not very devout. When Uhtred reaches adulthood, he’s a skilled fighter and a ladies’ man, a James Bond of the Middle Ages.

The Last Kingdom is based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series of books.

Alfred the Great’s goal was not only to defeat the Danes–the word “Viking” is never uttered during The Last Kingdom–but also to create from his small kingdom of Wessex a unified England. It’s up to his son, King Edward, to complete the task, with Uhtred’s assistance of course.

All the while Uhtred is forced to confront a onetime romantic interest, fellow-Saxon and abductee, Brida (Emily Cox), whose faith in the Norse religion is strong.

Edward meanwhile has to confront betrayal within his court as a unified England seems within grasp.

While a bit wooden at times, the acting in The Last Kingdom is generally quite good. The battle scenes are intense, and the plotlines are strong enough to keep watching. But to figure out what is happening here, you absolutely have to watch the first four seasons beforehand. One flaw of The Last Kingdom, as with Ozark, which also took a year off from filming, presumably because of the COVID outbreak, is that it is need of very strong recaps at the beginning of each episode, of which there a ten this season. Hey, people forget things two years later. Another challenge in keeping the storyline straight is that many of the characters’ names, all based on historical figures, are similar; they incorporate the Old English prefix “Æthel,” which translates into modern English as “noble,” or Ælf. Had they asked me, I would have for starters changed the name of a duplicitous rat, Æthelhelm (Adrian Schiller), a character whose historical standing is foggy. In The Last Kingdom he’s the father of Edward’s second wife, Ælflæd (Amelia Clarkson). One son of Edward is Æthelstan (Harry Kilby) another is his half-brother Ælfweard (Ewan Horrocks), he’s the son of Ælflæd.

A spin-off of The Last Kingdom is in the works, a movie titled Seven Kings Must Die.

There are two more seasons of Vikings coming. I probably won’t be watching.

Both programs are rated TV-MA for violence, nudity, and sex.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

Late last month a Nordic noir six-episode series, The Chestnut Man, a Danish production began streaming on Netflix. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Søren Sveistrup. It’s an ideal autumn offering on many levels. The Chestnut Man is set in Denmark in October with fall colors at their peak. Halloween–the celebration of it has been spreading in Europe–plays a part in the story, and oh yeah, it’s a compelling crime drama centered on a serial killer who leaves stick chestnut figures, chestnut men, at the scene of each murder. Just as the carving of pumpkins is an old tradition in North America the building of chestnut men is similar a tradition in Scandinavia.

Naia Thulin (Danica Curcic) is a police detective and a single mother whose work keeps her away from her daughter, Le (Liva Forsberg), so the girl spends more time with her quasi-grandfather, Aksel (Anders Hove). By the way Hove was a regular on the ABC soap opera General Hospital.

Thulin is assigned a new partner, Mark Hess (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). Their first investigation is a chestnut man murder. Hess has a troubled past–he was recently fired from his job in the Hague. The chestnut man case is quickly tied to the disappearance of the daughter of a politician, Rosa Hartung (Iben Dorner), who is the minister of social affairs. Her position puts in charge of foster care and child custody cases.

Obviously I don’t want to give up much of the plot because it will introduce spoilers. Let’s just say viewers will be confronted with twists and turns in the story line. The scars of unhappy childhoods figure in to the plot as well.

I also recently watched two other new Netflix series that I believe any level-headed person should avoid. 

Brand New Cherry Flavor is set in Hollywood in the 1990s and centers on a young Brazilian director (Rosa Salazar) who sees her first movie project stolen by a scumbag Hollywood producer. (Aren’t they all scumbags?) Inexplicably the director consistently barfs up large-eared kittens. Except for the negative portrayal of Hollywood I detested this series. And with a couple of exceptions I hated the characters. Even the kittens disturbed me. And there is a disgusting sex scene I won’t even describe here.

You can judge a book–and a TV series–by its cover. The Netflix graphic promoting Midnight Mass is centered on a main character, a Catholic priest, who has a sinister look on his face. The plot driver of this series is that priest (Hamish Linklater), a mysterious young pastor who arrives at an island parish that serves a tiny fishing community. Let’s just say Midnight Mass has about the same amount of respect for the Catholic Church as The Da Vinci Code, only with tons of gore and blood thrown into the mess. Although to be honest I did enjoy Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code book. The movie? Not so much.

The island’s sheriff, a Muslim, Rahul Kohli, is quite good in Midnight Mass however.

In Midnight Mass the cinematography is beautiful–but The Chestnut Man has that and so much more–I believe you’ll enjoy that series.

The Chestnut Man is rated TV-MA as it contains graphic violence and crime scene photos, foul language, sex, and brief nudity. It is available streaming on Netflix in English, English with subtitles, Danish with subtitles, Spanish, as well as simplified and traditional Chinese. There are bits of dialogue in The Chestnut Man in English and German–with subtitles. I watched it in Danish.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

This summer Netflix debuted the Icelandic series Katla. The actual Katla is a subglacial volcano, which last erupted in 1918. 

Whereas for the series, which is centered on the village of Vík, Katla erupted one year earlier, forcing the evacuation of most of the town, save for some essential workers and their families.

Then a Swedish woman covered in ash, Gunhild (Aliette Opheim), not seen in Vík for twenty years, appears mysteriously, having not aged at all.

Others then emerge in the same manner.

To explain the setting and mood of the Katla, I need to make a diversion. Stick with me. Although this bit is quite fascinating.

According to Icelandic folklore much of the country, particularly rocks and boulders, are inhabited by the huldufólk, the hidden people. 

Iceland is unique. In the fifth episode of his long running podcast Lore, “Under Construction,” host Aaron Mahnke describes the island nation this way: “Now you have to understand something about Iceland, much of the region is a vast expanse of sparse grass and large volcanic rock formations,” adding, “the ground boils with geysers and springs and the sky seems to be eternally gray and cloudy.”

Nature is particularly harsh in Iceland. Earthquakes are common, it has a chilly subpolar oceanic climate, long winter nights, and of course there are those volcanoes, nearly thirty of them are active. 

The use of folklore is a common method to explain the world and with so much of Iceland being a seemingly blank canvas–the “vast expanse of sparse grass” that Mahnke described, as well as its unpredictable volcanoes, it is understandable that folklore’s roots are deep there.

Mahnke in his podcast mentions a couple of road projects in Iceland–one just six years ago–that were altered to assuage fears that the huldufólk would not be disturbed. Click here to find other projects that were changed for the sake of the huldufólk.

In a 1998 survey slightly more than half of Icelanders said they believe in the hidden people. In the minds of many Icelanders the huldufólk are quite real. They are certainly part of the psyche of this Nordic nation.

Huldufólk take on many incantations within Icelandic folklore, among these are as changelings.

Katla is an eight-episode series that is the work of Sigurjón Kjartansson and Baltasar Kormákur. The duo was also responsible for the series Trapped, Kormákur directed the movie Everest.

It appears Kormákur and Kjartansson’s primary audience for Katla is Icelanders and other Scandanavians. The former and probably the latter have a basic understanding of the huldufólk, whereas the primary audience of this blog does not. Hence my diversion because the huldufólk legends aren’t discussed at all in Katla except briefly midway in the series, but that part is featured in the Netflix trailer.

After the emergence of the young Gunhild, the “other” one–twenty years older of course–is discovered in Sweden. Next to come from the ash is Ása (Íris Tanja Flygenring), whose return puzzles her sister Gríma (Guðrún Eyfjörð), a rescue worker in an unhappy marriage with a dairy farmer, Kjartan (Baltasar Breki Samper). Ása and Gríma find themselves entangled in the complicated life of Gunhild and an old relationship of his.

In Katla we also find a deeply religious man, police chief Gísli (Þorsteinn Bachmann) and a scientist Darri (Björn Thors), whose lives are dramatically altered by the new arrivals. 

Katla is part science fiction and part psychological drama. It’s worth your time. 

The show’s directors make the most of the stark scenery–the cinematography is breathtaking. And the acting is compelling.

Katla is rated TV-MA for violence, scenes of suicide, brief nudity, and strong language. It is available in English, in Icelandic with subtitles, and in English with subtitles. I recommend watching the Icelandic with subtitles version, as there are passages in English and Swedish–and that method of viewing fills out the storyline a little better.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.