TV

Murdered for Being Different – Review

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Producing a factual drama is always a complex task. A writer may feel indebted to the reality, and thus reluctant to stray from the truth. Others may adapt, or alter the truth in pursuit of drama and narrative engagement, risking alienating the audience (particularly those familiar with the case). Often, the factual dramas that have been best received are those that intentionally adopt an alternative perspective. Thus, The Moorside, detailing the Shannon Matthews case, chose to focus on Julie Bushby rather than Karen Matthews, allowing the audience an insight into the case, without casting aspersions.

Since moving to online only, BBC Three has focused on generating creative, socially important output. Murdered for Being Different appears to form part of an unofficial triptych which includes the critically acclaimed Murdered by My Boyfriend, and Murdered by My Father. 

Murdered for Being Different details the well-known case of Sophie Lancaster. Sophie, and her boyfriend of three years Rob, were brutally attacked in a park in Lancashire by a group of teenagers ten years ago. The media largely focused on promoting Sophie and Rob’s ‘otherness’, highlighting their participation in alternative culture and their Goth appearance. Rob, the only survivor of the attack, has subsequently decried the media’s focus on their appearance, rightly stating that this focus has implications of victim blaming. As Rob has stated in interviews that were held as part of the BBC three production of the event, Sophie was murdered because ‘some arseholes killed her. What can’t we ask what it is about them that made them want to murder someone?’

Dealing with such an event, one which received much media attention, and has had considerable ramifications on both society and those affected, can be problematic. Creator Nick Leather combats this by inviting the direct involvement of Rob. While Rob remembers little of the attack, such were the extent of his injuries, he does remember his relationship with Sophie. These memories, presented as idyllic and almost dreamlike, act as a stark contrast to the aggressive violence that both Rob and Sophie suffered. Rob paints wings onto Sophie’s back, turning her into the angel that he perceives her to be. She reads Harry Potter to him after he purchases the last instalment for her at midnight. Rob has trekked through the night after he is left with no bus money after the purchase.

Wisely, the drama does not attempt to create any sense of narrative tension. There is no need when the audience knows the result. Rather, the drama focuses on the futility and senselessness of the violence, and the tender nature of Rob and Sophie’s relationship. Their first meeting, depicted as taking place in a loud music venue in which the pair are forced to communicate via non-verbal gestures, utilises both music and visuals. Rob spots Sophie across a crowd, and the attraction is instant. Her face, flickering in and out of frame in time with the lights, draws both Rob and the audience to her.

While we are only afforded an insight into their relationship, its depiction created in collaboration with Rob, allows for the portrayal of a meaningful connection, ensuring that the pair’s attack (only truly revealed in its horror at the end of the narrative) is all the more brutal.

In depicting Sophie’s death, the drama does not set out to entertain or create drama. Rather it hopes to highlight the crime, and the impact that it had on those around them. Leather succeeds in this aim, resulting in the creation of an affecting piece. A piece that will stay with you long after the credits have ended.

3/5

The Handmaid’s Tale: Episode one

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Given the current political and social climate, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feels particularly prescient, arguably more so than ever. Taking a recognisable western society and transplanting it into a future in which women are merely used for their reproductive and domestic uses, does not feel entirely removed from our own current reality, and it is that familiarity that makes The Handmaid’s Tale so affecting.

Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is a handmaiden, a woman forced to offer her body in hopes of procreation. In this future, the birth rate has rapidly dropped, leaving those women who have previously demonstrated their ability to conceive to act as handmaidens (or be forced to a short life of painful, debilitating manual labour). Using flashbacks, the narrative interweaves multiple timelines:

  • Offred’s life now, placed with the commander and Serena Joy, forced to offer her body to the commander as part of the reproductive ‘ceremony’.
  • Offred’s life prior to the full installation of the regime, in which she, her husband and daughter attempt to escape to Canada.
  • Offred’s life before the regime, in which she is a happy college student.
  • Offred’s life in the early days of her indoctrination, in which she is compelled, through systematic threats and violence, to become a handmaiden.

In this patriarchal theocratic society, women have no rights, they have no sense of agency. This system of contributing to population growth is clearly loathed by Serena Joy, who feels threatened by the fertile Offred, yet she cannot question the events. Offred is forced to endure this treatment, determined to survive. She affords herself little opportunity to dwell on her situation, recognising that a propensity to reflection merely makes her life more difficult to withstand.

The adaptation takes the wise decision to avoid too much exposition. Thus, the audience is immediately thrown into narrative action as we witness Offred’s attempts to escape with her family. The scenes in which we are privy to Offred’s desperation and clear devotion to her daughter instantly create empathy. The audience is already on her side before we are introduced to the ways of her life now. This empathy is crucial, as it is Offred’s story that the audience is asked to invest in. Without the creation of a successful connection her plight, and the plight of all the women suffering under the regime, would not engage and in turn encourage analysis.

Much of the narrative thus far is formed through Offred’s compelling voiceover. Her description of the world around her, rather than lessening the action, actually invites audience partipation. Linguistic clues are casually used: the domestic housekeepers are referred to as ‘marthas’, Offred refers to people potentially being an ‘eye’, and she notes that Nick, the commander’s driver, is considered to be too low status to be provided with a woman.

As expected, Elizabeth Moss is sublime: her Offred is both vulnerable and utterly determined. Moss imbues Offred with humanity and intelligence as she struggles to navigate her day to day life without allowing its oppression to overcome her. Alexis Bledel is similarly effective as Ofglen, a fellow handmaiden. The pair’s interactions with one another, as they meet each day to complete the shopping for their respective households, convey the suspicion and guarded manner in which they now live their lives. Equally wary of each other, they converse in the regime’s rhetoric extolling the rehearsed lines as a means of protection.

The muted colour palette creates imagery that is both beautiful and horrifying, encouraging focus. The handmaids’ garb of red and white convey violence and vulnerability, consistently reminding the viewer of both the role of the handmaid and the danger with which they exist.

The first episode largely centres on introducing the viewer to this world, introducing reference points for the viewer to return to. We learn of Offred’s prior life, and her friendship with Moira (a brilliant Samira Wiley) as it was before the regime, and their relationship during their initiation process. Moira has existed within this world for longer than Offred, and helps her to negotiate her way through in order to ensure her survival. While we know little of the full extent of the government’s machinations, the first episode begins to imply its cruelty. This is an intelligent narrative device, allowing each detail – the ‘ceremony’, the hanging of those perceived as traitors to the state due to their sexuality or occupation – to resonate, without isolating. It is this level of detail that helps to create the diegesis of the narrative. This is a world that is both far removed from our own, yet presents as a vision of what could happen if those with such political leanings were afforded power.

In praise of Love

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To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.

Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey  yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.

Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.

Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.

Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.

In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.

Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.

Stranger Things: In praise of Nancy Wheeler

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Nancy Wheeler (Natalia Dyer) – source: Netflix

Stranger Things is great. A wonderful nostalgic series that creates its own original narrative that never feels derivative nor clichéd. The series has garnered much praise since its release on Netflix last month and rightly so, with many critics pointing towards the characterisation as being especially strong. Certainly the interactions between the young friends is believable and engaging, and the series has gained attention for its well-rounded and developed female characters.

For me, it is Nancy Wheeler’s character in particular that is worthy of praise. Her character begins the series as a seemingly archetypical love struck teen. The attentions of Steve (Joe Keery) apparently leads Nancy (Natalia Dyer) astray, at least, that’s what Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) believes when he remonstrates that Nancy is pretending to be someone else in order to gain popularity and Steve’s consideration.

At this point in the narrative, the viewer could find themselves siding with Jonathan’s assertion. While Nancy’s interactions with Steve, in which she readily mocks and laughs at him, have hinted at a more developed character, her rash actions and willingness to let Steve dictate her actions have indicated otherwise. She is, at this point in the narrative, seemingly another addition to the devoted, desperate female trope.

Her response, in which she angrily reasserts herself and tells Jonathan how wrong he is, is not only an indicator of great writing, but highlights just how brilliant Nancy’s characterisation is. In her diatribe she is simultaneously telling both Jonathan and the viewer that she is far more than first appearances may indicate. She is her own person, and she is making her own decisions. She refuses to allow Jonathan project his own fantasy upon her. Jonathan has clearly created a sense of who he thinks Nancy is, one that fits into the fantasy that he has of her, yet Nancy refuses to allow anyone to tell her who she is or how she should act.

It is Nancy, who after witnessing the monster, is determined to act in order to save her best friend. She willingly teams up with Jonathan, proving herself to more than adept with the typical masculine pursuits of shooting and tactically planning.

Most importantly, it is Nancy’s function within the narrative that is so impressive. She is not there to serve as a prize to be won. While it is clear that Jonathan has feelings for Nancy, his feelings are inconsequential. Nancy is friends with Jonathan, but she does not allow her romantic or sexual feelings to be dictated by others. She is firmly her own person.

Take the scene for example, in which Nancy asks Jonathan to stay with her after her experience in the Upside Down. A lesser writer would have used this scene as an opportunistic chance to introduce a sexual relationship between the two, reducing Nancy to a female foil for Jonathan’s male character. Instead, it is a moment in which Nancy is once again able to assert herself. Jonathan, seeking to comfort Nancy, tells her that the monster will not be able to attack them in the safety of their own home. Nancy, having been the person to actually see and interact with the monster in the Upside Down, quickly informs Jonathan that there is no way of knowing that, and that ultimately his comfort, while well meaning, is relatively useless. Nancy knows that the only way that they can be safe is to challenge the monster, and defeat it.

It is notable that in the scene in which Nancy enters the Upside Down, there is clearly a sense of gender role reversal at work. Typically, we would expect the male character to be the one to willing enter the sphere of danger, but here it is Nancy who takes the risk while Jonathan has to wait. Certainly Jonathan aids Nancy’s escape, but his help doesn’t extend to his entering the Upside Down himself.

Finally, it is Nancy’s role in attempting to defeat the monster that fully emphasises the development of her character. Purchasing various equipment, including guns and traps, with Jonathan highlights that Nancy is fully ready to undertake an active role in the monster’s defeat.

She is shown to be an equal; helping Jonathan and working with Steve in order to injure the creature. She doesn’t require rescuing, nor does she panic. She is level-headed throughout. She became involved in attempting to defeat the monster due to her friend Barb’s disappearance, but even though she now knows that this futile, she continues in the attempt. Nancy is truly an impressive creation: a developed, complex female character.

Stranger Things – two episodes in

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As evidenced by the recent vitriolic reaction to Ghostbusters nostalgia is a powerful thing. It is interesting that, for some, any sense of homage or reboot is offensive, altering their happy memories of a childhood experience. For others, myself included, a homage when completed by a writer or director who genuinely feels affinity for the era or source text, can be wonderful. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is, for example, a sublime exercise in both playing reverence but also creating a new, original piece of work.

Stranger Things, one of the more recent Netflix efforts, has, thus far shown itself to be the latter. A well constructed, engaging series that has clearly been created out of love for the era which inspired it.

Two episodes in, and I am already in love with the character interactions, the setting, and the unsettling tone. While I may have been born towards the end of the 80s, I grew up watching the films that clearly so inspired the Duffer brothers; E.T. was the first film I ever cried at, and as such, left an indelible impact.

The narrative of Stranger Things may not be hugely original, featuring the disappearance of a young boy and the subsequent search to find him, but it is utterly enthralling. This is largely through the fantastic cast, as well as the wonderful soundtrack that has proven so popular that it is gaining an official release.

Will (Noah Schnapp) the young boy whose disappearance serves as the series central conceit is, despite his brief screen time, entirely affecting. It is his lack of screen time that in turn, makes his absence so notable. His mother Joyce’s agony and her subsequent desperation is completing believable. I have seen some criticism of Joyce’s characterisation, largely in regards to her already frazzled stated before Will is missing. While I understand that this might lead to Joyce’s character feeling one note, Winona Ryder’s performance allows Joyce to develop. She is struggling to keep herself afloat, and her youngest son’s unexplained disappearance could lead to a complete breakdown and yet, her determination and her belief that he is still around simply because she feels it, helps her character to transcend any sense of trope.

The interaction between Will’s young friends, Mike (Finn Woldhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is clearly reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and like Reiner’s characters, the group of young boys is both humorous and emotional without any sense of overwrought sentimentality.

The series thus far has successfully created a truly disconcerting tone, helped by the atmospheric soundtrack that aids the nostalgic tone without detracting from the immediacy of the story.

Modern Family: the problem with Manny

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The success of Modern Family is undeniable, particularly so in its early incarnation (winning the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series in each of its first five years). The series, being a sitcom, frequently relies on stereotypes and tropes as can be expected, but these tropes become regressive and increasingly problematic.

The show has, for me, become increasingly questionable in its recent series; an issue that seems to correlate with an escalation in poor quality. The portrayal of women for example, in which Claire fulfils the role of harridan, or the representation of Phil, the husband who is often more child than adult, are both tired and seem especially lazy given the increase in television’s quality over recent years. For me though, the issue of Manny and the manner in which his heterosexual desire is represented, is perhaps the most damaging.

Teen desire, particularly male desire, had long been represented in sitcoms as a source for comedy and humour. Certainly there is nothing wrong with that, in fact, given that the media often proves itself to be formative in helping teens navigate their burgeoning sexuality, a representation of desire which is both relatable and empathetic is, I believe, crucial.

This is where Modern Family missteps so dangerously. Manny, held up for ridicule due to his dramatic tendencies, is permanently seen as a source of humour. Rather than being encouraged to laugh with Manny, we are encouraged to laugh at him, especially when he is determined to woo a potential love interest. Immediately this prevents Manny from becoming an empathetic character for teens: they don’t want to be like Manny as they don’t want to find themselves a similar subject of ridicule. This is concerning enough, but it is Manny’s interactions with women that are the most troubling.

Manny, despite his comedic characterisation, truly believes himself to be entirely desirable to all women, including his cousin. His interactions with other girls, in which he attempts to increase his confidence by driving a car are, initially, endearing.

Yet, it is as Manny gets older that his continual attempts to attract women veer into harassment. Take his treatment of the nanny employed to look after his younger brother for example. His machinations in which he ensures that he is alone with her, begin to stray into manipulation and control. His fascination with her seems to largely stem from her physical attractiveness as he is found sculpting and drawing nude images of her as part of his classwork. Thus his desire for women is not based on personality, but rather levels of attractiveness.

 

I find it useful then, when considering Manny’s improbable interactions with women, to reference the sublime Malcolm in the Middle. All of the men in the family spend an inordinate amount of time attempting to attract members of the opposite sex, but unlike Modern Family, Malcom in the Middle is able to portray both the humiliation and empathy of the onslaught of puberty in a way that is both comedic and far more positive.

Unlike Manny, who seems to believe that any woman should think themselves lucky to be involved with him, all of the boys understand that in order to attract a girl, they may need to moderate their behaviour. Take the episode in which a babysitter is hired to look after the boys for the weekend (a useful parallel given Manny’s treatment of the nanny). The boys, immediately finding her attractive, spend the weekend attempting to please her. They take great pains to ensure that they listen to her and most importantly, that she feels listened to. They consciously make sure to keep the house tidy as instructed and make an effort to present themselves in as positive way as possible.

Now I am not, of course, suggesting that this depiction is wholly positive, but compared to Manny, the Wilkersons are positively progressive.

 

 

Thoughts on Orange is the New Black – 5 episodes in

*Contains spoilers*

I admit, I wasn’t overly excited for the latest season of Orange is the New Black. Being one of the earliest Netflix incarnations, I felt that given the pedigree of recent dramatic efforts, the prison set series would potentially return feeling stale and lacking in new inspiration. This feeling was, in part, due to the rather lacklustre efforts of season three. When on form, season three was excellent (Pennsatucky and Boo’s burgeoning friendship stemming from the worst circumstances for example), but too often featured Piper, whose privileged character has become increasingly irritating.

Watching the first five episodes I was pleased to see that not only does the show demonstrate a clear return to form, but its writers are willing to undertake a number of risks that may not prove palatable to the regular mainstream viewer (showcasing a scene in which a dead body is chopped up to the sounds of Papa Roach for example).

The writers have also seen fit to showcase and develop its most interesting and engaging characters, dispelling with those who are more one dimensional. Piper for example, originally the show’s protagonist, has been, thankfully, increasingly sidelined and her appearances in season four are, thus far, relatively fleeting. When she is featured, her belief that her actions of the prior season have somehow imbued her with strength and power, are held up as laughable and the audience are encouraged to find her interactions with her new bunkmate as ridiculous.

The show is depicting some interesting dynamics in regards to power, or rather the lack of power, both in terms of corporate and race. The prisoners, when confronted with newly employed aggressive guards, find themselves invasively frisked under the pretence of discovering contraband. Piper, when hoping to assert her newly established and wholly fragile dominance, ends up, through her ignorance and naivety, inciting a white power movement within the prison.

Whilst there may be an increasing plethora of Netflix created programmes, some of which are seriously lacking, it is pleasing to see that the writers of Orange is the New Black are continuing to invest themselves in creating a quality series that is aware of the importance of acknowledging wider societal contexts and issues.

The Disapperance – review

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The Disappearance is one of many of the European detective serial. Such is the ubiquity of these series, that they are fast becoming a genre in their own right and as such, largely due to the sheer plethora of productions, are fast becoming clichéd and stereotyped.

If The Disappearance had been released perhaps five years ago, it might have still felt relatively fresh and interesting, but given that it comes after a multitude of very similar programmes, it feels tired. It is interesting to note that the French language series is a remake of a Spanish series, which begs the question, was this series necessary at all? There seems to be a strange trend of remaking a series in this way; Broadchurch  for example was remade for an America audience featuring the same characters, and in the case of the male protagonist, the same actor, whilst The Killing was remade, with some alterations, for an American audience.

I’m not sure what this inclination suggests as regards TV producers’ views of their audiences, but unless intended for an artistic statement (Gus Van Sant style), such a remake, for me at least, smacks of an assumed need to ‘dumb down’ the content for a perceived less-intelligent, sophisticated audience.

Unnecessary remakes aside The Disappearance, shown on BBC Four, features the now  trope -like narrative of a young girl Léa who, after her apparent disappearance, is shown to be hiding a number of things from her loving family. I have seen online some discussion regarding the opening scenes of the first episode, in which the audience are privy to Léa’s dressing and undressing as she struggles  to decide what she should wear for her big birthday night out. Whilst the setting of her bedroom allowed us to see the interplay between her various family members, as well as show how comfortable she felt around her mother (changing clothes in front of her), I agree with those online that highlight the voyeuristic element of these scenes. There is a clear sense of the camera’s male gaze as it lingeres over the seventeen-year-old’s body. Is it necessary for the audience to witness the attractiveness of the disappeared in order to care? Would we care as much if Léa wasn’t shown to be typically attractive and self-assured?

The detectives assigned the case are, thus far, once again fulfilling character types that have been seen many times before: the quiet, moody male detective struggling with his own personal life as he attempts to return Léa to her family. Perhaps later episodes of the eight-part series will subvert genre expectations, but based on the opening episodes, I think this is unlikely.

 

Hav you been watching … Grey’s Anatomy?

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I unashamedly love Grey’s Anatomy. I totally accept that it is melodramatic and hyperbolic featuring increasingly improbable scenarios and set-pieces, but that doesn’t lessen my adoration of the show in the slightest.

Grey’s Anatomy’s strength lies in the writing, enabling a total and utter suspension of disbelief no matter how ridiculous the narrative. Indeed, the series, in its more Meta moments, often draws attention to the sheer amount of drama that the residents of the hospital have endured. The writers’ know that the events of the series are entirely detached from reality in their sheer volume (train crash, bridge collapse, plane crash, hospital shooter to name but a few) and as a result, ensure that their characters are developed and complex enough for the viewer to feel invested in.

Grey’s Anatomy is at its strongest when it is portraying female comradery and friendship and much discussion has been focused on the friendship between Christina and Meredith in the show’s earlier seasons. The latest season has seen the show becoming ever more overtly feminist in its stance and approach with the female surgeons at the hospital noting, and applauding, the fact that all of the department heads of surgery were women. Similarly the show has taken a furthered explicit approach to the subject of race, which whilst addressed in earlier seasons, has been done so more notably now – featuring discussions on privilege and lack of dependent on ethnicity.

The series has gone through several changes to its ensemble cast, and whilst some have been better received than others, the majority have seamlessly fit in with the original cast members. Now running into its twelfth season, the show has served to cement creator Shonda Rhimes’ creative control on TV (she also created Scandal and produced How to Get Away with Murder the latter of which was awarded the accolade of producing the first black woman to win an Emmy for best actress in a TV drama).

 

Esio Trot – review

Roald Dahl has, as a writer, always managed to wonderfully balance the mundane with the surreal, the bizarre with the run of the mill. His best work (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG) were,despite their fantastical elements, still rooted in elements of social reality: the Buckets’ poverty, Sophie’s lack of a family. Esio Trot, whilst still retaining the trademark Dahl moments, is one of his more overtly saccharine and capricious pieces. Detailing Mr Hoppy’s attempts to woo Mrs Silver the neighbour downstairs through a convoluted and detailed plan involving the timely replacement of tortoises, Esio Trotshould have made for perfect New Year’s Day viewing.

Dustin Hoffman stars as Mr Hoppy, a quiet, self-contained man who has, for a time, harboured an affection for Judi Dench’s Mrs Silver. Struggling to connect with her in a meaningful way, after hearing her complain of her beloved tortoise Alfie’s inability to grow, he informs her of a chant of African extraction that may help Alfie to grow in size. He purchases and subsequently secretes away a large number of tortoises who all differ in size, planning to replace the original Alfie with new slightly larger Alfies in turn in order to convince Mrs Silver that the chant is working.

Both Hoffman and Dench are utterly charming and highly engaging: we entirely understand why Mr Hoppy would go to such lengths in order to charm his beatific neighbour. The tone retains the wonderful whimsy of Dahl’s text and is certainly rather lovely to look at and it is this that ensures that Esio Trot remained a success despite the number of ill-judged moments and decisions.

The largest issue is surely the additions made to the script, and thus the blame must squarely lie with Richard Curtis’ decision to embellish Dahl’s story, adding an entirely pointless and ultimately grating framing narration featuring the ever-irritating James Corden.  Corden’s narration is simply not needed: the discussions about the story with his precocious young daughter merely serve to take the audience’s attention away from the central romance. An audience is entirely capable of understanding motivation without a narration telling us how we should be interpreting an event and what we are meant to be understanding.

Ultimately, and perhaps because of the forgiving nature of the festive season Esio Trot was an enjoyable and mostly charming piece, in spite of Corden’s disingenuous dull narration.