Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Zen and the return of Larkrise

Let me tell you what's annoying about BBC One's Zen before I tell you how terrific it is. To explain Zen  you need to know it's a detective drama about Italians,  the  two lead actresses who respectively play Zen's mam and  his seriously sexy girlfriend Tania, are Italian or speak with a credible Italian accent, which highlights the absurdity of the fact that all the actors are English, they speak with an English accent, some of them even look English. This wouldn't be a problem if the action took place in Manchester, London or that British hotbed of Italian people ...Cardiff (which often passes for London). However, the fact the sets suspiciously resemble the real Rome and surrounding countryside , complete with signs and Italian extras arguing in Italian, makes these actors, however good they are, stick out like sore thumbs. I suppose it's better than having a load of Londoners putting on embarrassingly bad Italian accents, but it still begs the question of why they couldn't at least get some people who spoke with an Italian accent.

That aside, you really do get sucked in to the story and hope Aurelio Zen and the lovely Tania eventually get to rip each other's clothes off and shag like sailors on shore leave. Given when it plays, we may even get to see some proper skin. Potential sex scenes for youtube aside, the story centers on the relationship of Aurelio Zen (Rufus Sewel) honest to a fault but practical cop and Amedeo Colonna (Ben Collins) corrupt meddling cabinet minister who issues him orders that contradict Zen's sense of propriety. The fact he manages to get the result that both pleases himself and the minister every time is hardly a surprise, as the films would be over pretty quickly if you got Zen demoted to traffic warden in episode one. Each time Zen succeeds he demands a price from the authorities who are appropriately grateful.  Prety handy if you want to use that kind of power to woo and keep a new lady as tasty looking as Caterina Murino. But just how long can he keep his sense of honour and morality intact before he has to choose between staying alive and happy or doing the right thing? I suspect the next instalment being the last for now, will tease and entertain us as much as the previous two have. 

As detective fiction it's pretty transparent stuff if you pay attention. In the first story the means of entry and egress were fairly clear and enticing as plot devices go. And the use of conveniently handy anonymous scapegoats has served the writers well. In the 2nd story the scapegoat neatly allows all parties to preserve pride and personal security without letting the other side knowing too much of anything harmful. I doubt tho, that this will last long as the building tension and layering of ever increasingly strange conspiracy theory plot lines, must inevitably lead to the clash of wills and principle we've so far avoided. In a system as allegedly corrupt as the one under the microscope here, it's never a good thing to be noticed by the people who really run the show, and eventually all the games will lead to the demise of Aurelio Zen's career and his love life. 

The acting by this cast of mostly familiar faces from previous crime drama on the BBC, is as good as it always is, and keeps you glued to the telly despite the fairly large elephant in the room. Add to that the exquisite clothing, incidental music and the style reminiscent of the great Italian films of the late 1960's and early '70s and you have a winning combination. Another way of seeing just how good the acting  (most of the time) seems to be, is the way the characters rise above the lush surroundings and pretty furniture all around them.  Even the bits that could have descended into caricature, seemed to retain their intended sense of jeopardy. 

If all you heard was that there was a casting call and no Italians showed up, don't let that keep you from watching.  See the first two on the iPlayer  and read about the series here

The far less glamorous or sexy but equally engaging Larkrise to Candleford returned this week. The entire cast short of Laura's father are all back and just as intoxicating. In fact I think it's the actresses who drive this entire programme.  Except for Thomas Brown postie and community spiritual guide, the men see to mostly react to what ever it is the women get up to. To be honest, it is about as representative of reality as any other aspect of the programme is. You may have been told that women of the era were powerless weak retiring creatures, but notwithstanding their status in law, they were by and large a fairly proactive bunch. This new series 4 promises to be just as exciting as the last three with the return of Dawn French from debtor's prison. Young Master Alf Arliss will have plenty on his hands what with his presumed wedding to the gormless but hard grafting Minnie. Laura and Daniel continue their road to wedded bliss while Dorcas cannot help but meddle even as she resolves to stop. 

Ep 1 of series 4 was a bit weak if you consider that the story of the new blacksmith is somewhat over the top even for Larkrise. Gabriel Cochrane is a troubled soul who seems a bit too unstable even for the period and hardly worthy of sympathy from even the most ardent do gooder. You'll see what I mean when  you watch it if you've yet to see it. As for the rest of the plot is more of the familiar stuff that speak to the little life lessons that happened to people then and even now. Young Edmund Timmins falls prey to the temptation of sudden windfall with all the doubt and confusion that occasions. At it's heart , the episode was about how the community will always hold together and give a man the benefit of the doubt and extend all the help they can  to those who appear to be most in need.

Will Dorcas find love at long last? Will Alf Arliss be thrown into a current too strong for him and Minnie when his mam comes home? Like any good soap, Larkrise to Candleford will get there eventually. One of the best bits in any episode are the long practised sports of jumping to conclusions,  imagining the worst, avoidance of dishonour and the always enjoyable reduction to tears/shock/extreme discomfort of at least one character, with luck , several times an ep. This time it's the turn of Ruby Pratt, yes Ruby is back, but I won't tell you why. As always, a most enjoyable hour spent far from the clutches of murderers ,thieves and baby swappers in modern soap land. Watch and read more here

2011 has been a bit slow to start, but so far the output on  ITV has been good enough to not give up all hope for the year being somewhat better than what was dished out over at ITV last year.  Downton Abbey was a step in the right direction and a welcome breath of fresh air from the network that made Katie Price.  Having said this, the hair styles were a mess, having do's from the late thirties and early 20's in 1913. Seems the hight priced actresses at ITV still haven't taken to historical accuracy for the sake of their art. The Downton Abbey women were largely seen without a single corset in sight, despite the corset not getting the heave ho till about 1923 and the older women will persist for some time longer. Then the small but important plot devices to move the story, are clumsily dropped in on top of a noble house structure that seems rough and crude. But if you enjoy the costumes and the tour of the rooms and furniture, it was a delight to behold. I sincerely hope when it comes back , the string of anachronisms is a thing of the past, as the cast is brilliant and the set so much living canvas, you want more. Next to Upstairs Downstairs, it suffers by comparison, but at least ITV is trying, and it may yet get it right.The numbers prove there is an audience for costume drama and class concious stories. One hopes both networks take note.

Time for me to make supper, see you next time as the frequency of posts  gets back to something approaching normal again . 

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