BRITBOX TV – IS IT WORTH IT?

by Kristine Hughes Patrone

If you’re at all like me, you probably prefer watching British television to American television. Not so long ago, this was almost impossible to do in the USA. The only options available were Masterpiece Theatre or buying mini-series and movies on video tape or CD. Then came Acorn TV, which was much better than what we had, offering more content and many British shows otherwise unavailable to us. Acorn TV answered a need and served a purpose. Yes, we had to pay for the service, but if you were a dedicated Brit telly fan, the monthly fee of $4.99 was worth it.

Enter Britbox, a joint service by the BBC, ITV and Amazon video, allowing those of us in America to stream UK telly. When it first launched I yawned. In fact, I’d been yawning for quite a while as my Acorn TV subscription had become a tad stale. Who needs Britbox, thought I, it will most likely be nothing more than another version of Acorn TV, where the same old programs were rerun again and again. And again. After several years of subscribing to Acorn TV, I’d grown tired of the slow turnover of “new” shows and I’d been seriously considering dropping my subscription. Admittedly, old standards such as Blacks Books, Cradle to Grave and Grandma’s House  were interspersed with more contemporary, and desirable, shows such as Vera, Doc Martin, A Place to Call Home, and Happy Valley, but new episodes were slow in coming. And besides, I wanted access to more than just dated, and well watched, series TV. I wanted prime time British telly.

I’m a huge fan of Coronation Street, the UK soap opera that’s been on the air since 1960. I’ve seen every episode aired since 1970, discovering the program on YouTube and watching it for months until I’d caught up with the current episodes. I also used to be able to watch new episodes on YouTube, where a handful of lovely people would upload them soon after they aired in the UK. Recently, Coronation Street’s parent company, ITV, began policing YouTube and reporting “pirated” content, which was quickly taken down. It’s almost impossible to find a recent episode on the platform any more. When I learned that Hulu was streaming new episodes of Coronation Street, of course I headed their way. $5.99 per month, so worth it to see Corrie. I signed up for their free trial and waited for new episodes of Coronation Street. And waited. And waited.  As of last night, as I write this on November 9, the latest episode available on Hulu was October 23rd. And that’s been the latest episode for almost two weeks now. Not. Funny. Not. Happy.

And so I found myself on the Britbox website. Since Britbox is affiliated with ITV, the producers of Coronation Street, chances were better that new Corrie episodes would drop in a more timely fashion. Taking a lesson from my Hulu experience, I checked the Corrie line up before getting too excited and, lo and behold, they had Corrie episodes right up until yesterday’s date. Joy! I cancelled my trial period at Hulu and signed up with Britbox and then browsed their line up of other shows.

        

And they had plenty that was current. Don’t get me wrong, there were still a good amount of old saws like Poirot, Dalziel and Pascoe, Rosemary and Thyme, Sharpe with Sean Bean (Sean Bean !!), Fawlty Towers, Upstairs, Downstairs and Cranford, but there were also many more current shows, such as Broken with Sean Bean (Sean Bean !!), Cold Feet 2017, Strictly Come Dancing, Kat and Alfie, The Great Chelsea Garden Challenge, Flog It!, In The Dark, Ordinary Lives, The Moorside, plus documentaries, Royal specials and, in addition to Coronation Street, new episodes of favourite soaps Emmerdale, Holby City and East Enders.

     

Acorn TV does seem to be stepping up it’s game with the arrival of Britbox on the scene, adding new shows like Loch Ness and The Good Karma Hospital, but they’re going to have to step up their line up of current shows in order to keep pace with the new kid on the block. For now I’ll keep both subscriptions for a total of $11 per month, but it would be lovely if the UK telly powers that be would just let us subscribe to their t.v. tax and allow us to watch real time telly. Until then, I’m happy to have new episodes of Coronation Street and I’m also enjoying Broken –  it’s gritty, gripping and heartbreaking. In short, entirely binge worthy. As is Ordinary Lies. And Scott & Bailey. And Britbox will also be airing the Queen’s Christmas speech on the day.

If you’ve subscribed to any of these streaming services, or are considering signing on for any of them, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

Dark Shadows

Anyone of a certain age will recall coming home after school in time to watch Dark Shadows on the telly, which spoke to our generation in a way our mother’s soap operas could not. Many of us were Barnabas Collins fans, including Johnny Depp, who fought for years to bring the story to the big screen. “I do remember, very vividly, practically sprinting home from school in the afternoon to see Jonathan Frid play Barnabas Collins,” the actor says. “Even then, at that age, I knew — this has got to be weird.”

How appropo, as these days anything starring Johnny Depp has typically got to be a tad weird. And directed by Tim Burton, as this film is. And to co-star Helena Bonham Carter, which this film does. She plays Dr. Julia Hoffman. See below. And to feature Depp in wacky make up. Done. See above. And below, in the first photo of Depp as Tonto in the new Lone Ranger movie.

But I digress . . . . . the new Dark Shadows storyline begins in the 18th century, when Barnabas is turned into a vampire by the brokenhearted witch Angelique (Eva Green) and buried alive. The film then flashes forward two centuries, as Barnabas is freed from his tomb and returns to his home and the dysfunctional relatives who now reside there.

Principals involved in the film have given us a less clear vision of what to expect from the film:

“We’re changing it a little bit,” Burton said last fall. “I wouldn’t do it if it felt like it was just doing the same thing. For me, it’s about trying to go back to the original drawings and kind of capture that spirit a little bit more of what the drawings are. It feels different even though it’s a similar story, but we’re kind of expanding it a bit.

Bonham Carter muddled the water even further via the following comment, “It’s very original, and it’s kind of uncategorizable,” she said. “It’s going to be impossible to sell, frankly, because it’s a soap opera, but it’s very, very subtle, I don’t know. We’ll see. It’s a ghost story, but then it’s an unhappy vampire story.”

The film opens in theaters on May 11th, and no doubt the characters will garner themselves a whole new set of fans. If, that is, anyone comes away with a clear understanding of what the film was actually about.

So what’s next for Depp, who has never been one to rest long upon his laurels? The big screen version of The Night Stalker, with Depp playing Kolchak, the reporter in the seersucker suit who keeps running into monsters on his beat, originally played by Darren McGavin. No doubt there’ll be a part for Helena in this one, as well.

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the movie, opens in the UK and Ireland 24 February. Those in the States will have to wait until summer to see the film, although the novel will be available in stores in March.

The movie, directed by John Madden, sees a group of retirement age Brits move to India to see out their elderly years in colorful Jaipur and take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways. Dev Patel, of “Slumdog Millionaire” fame, plays the guy who entices them to take the adventure and the film also features Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy.

Deborah Moggach is the author of sixteen successful novels, including the bestselling Tulip Fever, and two collections of stories. The book on which this film is based was originally titled These Foolish Things. Her screenplays include Pride and Prejudice, which was nominated for a BAFTA. She lives in North London.

You can watch the movie trailer here.

The Wellington Connection: War Horse

I went to see War Horse in the movies recently and got a few surprises. Firstly, I was under the impression that no one recognizable was in the cast. Imagine my surprise when I saw Benedict Cumberbatch on screen as Major Jamie Stewart who, by the way, is the antithesis of the Duke of Wellington as far as military strategy is concerned.

Tom Hiddleston, who first came to my notice in the 2001 version of Nicholas Nickleby, played Captain Nicholls in War Horse. He is the officer who first takes possession of Joey, or the War Horse, when he’s intially sold to the Army. He vows to keep the horse safe and to return him at the end of the war.

Worth an honourable mention is Eddie Marsan as Sgt. Fry.

Another surprising thing about War Horse – I found myself crying at odd moments when no one else did. My first tear was shed at the opening when they showed wide shots of the hedgerows and fields of the English countryside. Next, I choked up when I saw the village in the scene where Joey is led away with the Army.

It was so iconically English. Turns out that the scene was shot in Water Street, Castle Combe, Wiltshire, below.

Then there was the scene where Cumberbatch and Hiddleston race for the gold ring during a practice charge. The entire regiment draws their swords and gallops forward, the ground thundering beneath them as thousands of hooves tear up the turf. It was so reminiscent of Waterloo that I couldn’t help tearing up. Not that I was actually at Waterloo, mind you. Well, I was at Waterloo, but not during the battle. Well, okay, I was at Waterloo during a battle, but not during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

And then Benedict Cumberbatch, as Major Stewart, leads the regiment in their first battle charge in France, telling his men that their initial charge must at all costs be decisive, as it was at Waterloo, et al. And then, they begin their charge in a field of wheat, a la Waterloo.

Oh, the humanity! As I choked out a sob, my husband said, “What are you crying for? Nothing’s happened yet.” Little did he know that it had happened. In 1815. In Belgium. In my mind. But the Wellington Connection was other than simply in my mind – it turns out that portions of War Horse were actually filmed at the Duke of Welllington’s country home, Stratfield Saye, a fact pointed out to me by Jo Manning, who apparently sat through all the credits and noted that the producers thanked Lord and Lady Douro for their cooperation in filming. Wikipedia tells us that “Filming of War Horse began with the cavalry scenes being filmed at Stratfield Saye House in north Hampshire, the estate of the Duke of Wellington, where incidentally Wellington’s war horse “Copenhagen” is buried. Here a cavalry charge involving 130 extras was filmed.”

So, there you have the Wellington Connection. For anything and everything else about War Horse, check Wikipedia here.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

In this sequel, Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson join forces to outwit and bring down their fiercest adversary, Professor Moriarty, played by Jared Harris, below.

Stephen Fry is Mycroft Holmes, elder brother of Sherlock.

And then, of course, there are Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law –

This cast alone should be more than enough encouragement to see the film, but should you be the odd man out and need even more incentive, Wikipedia offers this plot synopsis: “Sherlock Holmes (Robert Downey, Jr.) has always been the smartest man in the room…until now. There is a new criminal mastermind at large—Professor James Moriarty (Jared Harris)—and not only is he Holmes’ intellectual equal, but his capacity for evil, coupled with a complete lack of conscience, may actually give him an advantage over the renowned detective. When the Crown Prince of Austria is found dead, the evidence, as construed by Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), points to suicide. But Sherlock Holmes deduces that the prince has been the victim of murder—a murder that is only one piece of a larger and much more portentous puzzle, designed by one Professor Moriarty. Mixing business with pleasure, Holmes tracks the clues to an underground gentlemen’s club, where he and his brother, Mycroft Holmes (Stephen Fry) are toasting Dr. Watson (Jude Law) on his last night of bachelorhood. It is there that Holmes encounters Sim (Noomi Rapace), a Gypsy fortune teller, who sees more than she is telling and whose unwitting involvement in the prince’s murder makes her the killer’s next target. Holmes barely manages to save her life and, in return, she reluctantly agrees to help him. The investigation becomes ever more dangerous as it leads Holmes, Watson and Sim across the continent, from England to France to Germany and finally to Switzerland. But the cunning Moriarty is always one step ahead as he spins a web of death and destruction—all part of a greater plan that, if he succeeds, will change the course of history.” Yowza!

Watch the trailer here.