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Sunday, 06 February 2011 15:03

Downton Abbey Blu-ray/DVD

There is something deeply fascinating about the Edwardian era and the grand old country houses, the lives of the people who lived in them and who worked in them. The idea of the very rich having a vast staff of people who took care of their every whim and fancy and did it all with a bow or a curtsey and were happy and proud to do it may seem like an alien concept to us now but it was an accepted way of life at the turn of the last century.

Downton Abbey is one of these houses, a huge rambling stately pile set in acres of immaculately manicured grounds with a seemingly never ending array of maids and footmen in starched uniforms, valets, grooms, butlers and cooks who bustle about the place and cater for the needs of the Crawley family who employ them. It’s a romantic vision, and with the series out now on Blu-ray and DVD, one that is perfect as a Valentine’s Day gift. Set in the years leading up to the First World War – the first episode opens in 1912 with the Crawley family and their staff waking up to learn of the sinking of the Titanic.

Sunday, 14 November 2010 19:40

Robin of Sherwood Blu-ray

It seems incredible that Robin of Sherwood is now over 25 years old. It certainly has not aged at all, and it’s clear to see why it was regarded as a benchmark of quality television drama in the 1980s. It is arguably the definitive interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. And it’s only right and proper that this BAFTA-winning series now gets a release in High Definition via Blu-ray technology.

Michael Praed stars as Robin of Loxley in Richard Carpenter's influential and highly acclaimed re-working of the classic myth. What I always loved about this series, putting the attractions of Mr Praed on one side, was that Mr Carpenter managed to successfully weave the legend that we all know with a nice bit of magic and mysticism which was perfectly believable. The idea that Robin was the ‘son’ of Herne the Hunter and, armed with Albion, one of the Seven Swords of Wayland - “charged with the powers of light and darkness” - led his not-so-merry band to fight their Norman oppressors was an attractive one.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010 00:00

Lex Shrapnel

Winner of the 2009 Cult TV Award for ‘Breakthrough Performance’ for his portrayal of Jamie Cartwright in the updated Minder for five, Lex Shrapnel first appeared in the movie “K-19” with Liam Neeson and Harrison Ford.

Since then Lex has appeared in numerous roles including the low budget British film “Nine Lives” with Paris Hilton, “Minotaur” with Tom Hardy and Lucy Brown (of Primeval fame), “Flyboys” - a drama about the first US squadron of fighter pilots in the First World War, the Oscar nominated short film “The Tonto Woman”, and most notably to Cult TV fans, as John Tracy in the ill-fated 2004 “Thunderbirds” movie.

Lex ShrapnelHis TV credits include the ITV drama “Beneath the Skin”, “The Last Detective” and as the unfortunate Captain Lawrence in “Sharpe’s Challenge”.

On stage Lex has appeared in “Romeo and Juliet” at Chichester, “King Lear” at the Almeida theatre in London, and “Hamlet” at Birmingham Rep and the Edinburgh Festival. More recently he was a member of the multi-award winning Histories cycle with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Directed by Michael Boyd this involved the same group of actors performing all eight of Shakespeare’s History plays – “Richard II”, “Henry IV” parts 1 & 2, “Henry V”, “Henry VI” parts 1, 2 & 3 and “Richard III” – over a two year period. Lex appeared in seven of the eight plays.

It was his performance as Hotspur in “Henry IV” part 1 which brought him to the attention of the Minder producers, who then offered him the role of the honest but troubled cabbie Jamie Cartwright.

In 2009 Lex appeared at Birmingham Rep in “Serious Money” – a play written in the 1980s about greed and corruption in the London Stock Market. He has just finished recording three different audio dramas for Big Finish – a Sherlock Holmes adventure – “Holmes and the Ripper” with Cult TV favourite Nick Briggs as the eponymous detective, a Doctor Who Companion Chronicles story “The Shadows of the Past” with another former Cult TV star guest Caroline John, and a Jago and Litefoot story which features two characters from Tom Baker adventure “The Talons of Weng Chiang”.

Lex is a graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and is the son of veteran actor John Shrapnel, and the grandson of Deborah Kerr.

Saturday, 16 January 2010 11:31

New Pelham 123 released

“The Taking of Pelham 123” was originally a book written by Morton Freedgood under the pseudonym of John Godey. First made into a film in 1974, starring Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw, this is the 2009 remake from director Tony Scott, starring Denzel Washington and John Travolta. The premise is essentially the same, a New York Subway Train – Pelham 123 – is hijacked and brought to a halt between stations with the passengers, driver and conductor taken hostage. The ransom demand originally was £1 million.  Inflation gets to everything, and now it has gone up to £100 million in the new version.

The authorities have one hour to get the money to the hijackers or the hostages will die. The original film had a certain amount of charm to it, despite the tension and the drama, something which is lacking in the remake. Instead the violence and bad language has been ramped up – probably a reflection of the times but somehow there was more menace when you didn’t see the violence and you didn’t hear the chief hostage taker use the “F” word continually.

Thursday, 05 November 2009 10:56

Oliver Postgate: Seeing Things

Published a year to the day after Oliver Postgate’s death, this wonderful autobiography details his childhood and early life and tells how, with Peter Firmin, he came to create some of the most memorable and loved children’s television shows of all time. Working over a period of 40 years, with little more than a garden shed and an unlimited imagination, he gave us such shows as Bagpuss, The Clangers, Noggin the Nog and Ivor the Engine.

As you read this book you can almost hear Oliver’s instantly recognisable voice – full of warmth, charm and a gentle authority - Oliver wrote and narrated the stories, while Peter Firmin illustrated the characters and made the puppets.

Thursday, 31 July 2008 01:00

Minder returns!

UK Terrestrial channel five has announced that it is to remake the classic British drama comedy series Minder. It has commissioned six episodes from Talkback Thames. Shane Ritchie (Alfie Moon in Eastenders), will star as Archie Daley, nephew of the original wheeler dealer Arthur Daley.

Taking the place of Dennis Waterman’s Terry McCann, who for the last 36 episodes of the original was himself replaced by Gary Webster as Ray Daley, will be Lex Shrapnel, who has just finished a two year stint with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Lex will be playing Jamie Collins, Archie’s minder.

Sunday, 15 June 2008 19:24

Devil May Care (James Bond)

Written in honour of the centenary of Ian Fleming’s birth, “Devil May Care” carries on from where Ian Fleming left off. The blurb on the front cover claims ‘Sebastian Faulks writing as Ian Fleming’. The question is, does Mr Faulks manage to successfully emulate the writing style of Mr Fleming and does the book fit into the Bond canon? The answer is definitely yes.

I read the original Bond books years ago and always loved them. A mixture of fast paced action and travel guide, and DMC does the job just as well. The description of the heat, sounds and smells of 1960’s Tehran is as evocative as anything Fleming came up with.

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