Move over Bond – Kingsman Are the Real Spy Masters

Kingsman

The film franchise is perfect for those who miss the wit and eccentricity of old 007 movies.

There’s a thrilling sequence in Matthew Vaughn’s latest secret agent caper, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, set in the inevitable Alpine mountaintop retreat. So many familiar ingredients are there — cable car, Eagles Nest-style lair, machine-gun-toting heavies in snowsuits, etc — that you could almost be watching the next Daniel Craig Bond movie. Except you know you’re not because of one key detail: you’re wearing a big, stupid grin.

All right, perhaps I’m being a bit harsh on the recent James Bond movies. But I think we can agree that they are somewhat lacking the jauntiness of the Sean Connery/Roger Moore eras. Sure, Craig is great at looking moody, tortured and buff, and Sam Mendes’s direction has given the last two a depth and arthouse sheen far beyond anything Ian Fleming wrote. Where, though, is the wit, the cheek, the eccentricity that made those early Bonds so much fun?

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Unlike Father, Unlike Son: The Whitehalls’ Double Act

One’s crabby and conservative, while the other is genial and impeccably PC. No wonder Jack and his dad Michael make such compelling TV.

The Whitehalls

‘Oh really I don’t mind. Whatever you want to pay me. I just want to do this job and I’m really looking forward it. How much were you thinking?’ says Michael Whitehall in an unctuous, good-natured, amenable voice. Then, in an instant, having been told the imaginary amount, he turns savagely nasty and bangs his fist on the table. ‘No fucking way are you paying me so little…’

Watching Michael Whitehall jokingly re-enact how he negotiated his fee for his son’s new Netflix series, Jack Whitehall: Travels With My Father, three things become abundantly clear.

First, that he must have been a brilliantly effective agent (shrewd, tough, terrifying) during his previous career, when he represented such stars as Kenneth More, Daniel Day-Lewis, Judi Dench and (Jack’s godfather) Richard Griffiths.

Second, that he really should have been on stage or screen himself much earlier (he became a star only in his early seventies), because his acting skills, timing and delivery are immaculate. (He’ll hate the comparison, but I was oddly reminded of the scene where Gollum’s good and evil sides have an argument in Lord of the Rings.)

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I Really Wouldn’t Bother Watching Sky Atlantic’s Tin Star

The Canadian detective drama is nothing but cliché and a terrible waste of a talented cast – including a lubricious Christina Hendricks

Tin Star
Kevin Hanchard as Rev. Gregoire and Tim Roth as Sheriff Jim Worth in Tin Star, which is like the rejected first draft of a really bad movie by Quentin Tarantino.

Tin Star, the latest Sky Atlantic drama, has a comfortingly familiar premise: Jim Worth (Tim Roth), an ex-detective from London with an alcohol problem, heads out to rural Canada with his family to start a new life only to find himself embroiled in crime, violence and personal tragedy far worse than anything back home.

It begins well. There’s a lovely establishing scene where Roth walks down the street with his new Canadian sheriff’s badge and everyone greets him, as people presumably do in sleepy Canadian Rockies towns like Little Big Bear, where everyone’s got time for one another. In the police station, his two junior officers have so little crime to solve they’re playing video games. At their suggestion, Jim heads off to the picturesque river nearby to fish for salmon and spots his first bear. Gosh, how delightful it’s all going to be: a bit like that gentle 1990s comedy series Northern Exposure

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James Lovelock on Voting Brexit, ‘Wicked’ Renewables and Why He Changed His Mind on Climate Change

LovelockThe cures being advanced on green zealots are often worse than the disease itself, warns the pioneering environmentalist.

Environmentalism has gone too far; renewable energy is a disaster; scares about pesticides and chemicals are horribly overdone; no, the planet is not going to end any time soon; and, by the way, the answer is nuclear…

This isn’t me speaking, but the views of an environmentalist so learned, distinguished and influential you could call him the Godfather of Green. His name is James Lovelock, the maverick independent scientist perhaps best known for positing the theory that our planet is an interconnected, self-regulating organism called Gaia.

Not ‘Sir’ James Lovelock, I was mildly surprised to discover when I met him at his Dorset home, perched idyllically just behind Chesil Beach. ‘But I am a CH,’ he says, meaning Companion of Honour. ‘There are only 65 of them,’ chips in Lovelock’s American wife Sandy. ‘Yes, but I have to share the honour with Shirley Williams, which dilutes it somewhat — you know, comprehensive education,’ says Lovelock. ‘You’re not supposed to say that!’chides Sandy, clearly amused.

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The State Was Gripping, Moving and Shocking – But It Came at a Moral Cost

Spectator
Beyond belief: Sam Otto as Jalal in Peter Kosminsky’s The State

No, The State (Channel 4) wasn’t a recruiting manual for the Islamic State, though I did feel uneasy about it throughout the four episodes. The fundamental problem is this: if you’re going to make a watchable drama about bad people doing terrible things, you inevitably have to humanise them. And from there it’s just a short step to making them sympathetic.

Peter Kosminsky’s drama followed four British Muslims to Syria to join IS. Shakira, a black convert with a nearly-ten-year-old son, wanted to apply her skills as a doctor; Ushna was a teenager seeking to be a ‘lioness for lions’; Ziyaad was an amiable lunk looking for adventure; and his mate Jalal was a ‘hafiz’ — someone who has memorised the entire Koran — who wanted to follow in the footsteps of his dead brother and witness the Sharia in its purest form.

Needless to say, each was horribly, brutally disabused. But already you see the problem: here were some quite likeable characters — kind, sensitive Jalal, especially — a million miles from the hopped-up, insensate, savage killers we now see roughly once a fortnight bombing, shooting, slashing, van-murdering innocents for the crime of living a normal western life.

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The Story of Pecky, the Young Green Woodpecker, Could Be a Moneyspinner

Woodpecker
The story of Pecky, the young green woodpecker, could be a moneyspinner. I’ll have to change the odd detail, it’s true – make it less tragic and more heartwarming.

Ever since I was a child, I’d always yearned to see a green woodpecker. With its scarlet cap and lime-green body, it looks far too colourful and exotic to be a native species. But it very much is, as you can tell from the fact that it has a rustic nickname — the yaffle.

This, incidentally, is how Professor Yaffle — the carved wooden bookend which comes to life as a drily academic woodpecker, the ‘font of all knowledge’, apparently based on Bertrand Russell — in the 1970s children’s TV series Bagpuss got his name.

But I digress. The point is, I never did get to see a green woodpecker till my mid–forties when I moved to the country. They’re so common round us that I spot them every time I go for a walk, identifiable by their loud, urgent, laughing call, their swooping flight pattern and the green on their back which looks more like yellow in sunlight. Only when you’re lucky, though, do you get to see them up close — like the other day when I found one trapped by the anti-rabbit fence in the back garden.

At first I thought it was a mature bird which had been wounded by the cat. But on closer examination it turned out to be a fledgling. They’re nearly as big as the adults and have the same colouring, only it’s speckled rather than solid. This, our resident ornithologist Lee told me, is so rival adult birds don’t attack it. The speckles say: ‘Leave him alone, he’s only a kid.’

Obviously the fledgling couldn’t fly or it would have escaped. So I quickly went to retrieve it before the cat discovered it. Because he pecked me a lot with his long sharp beak when I picked him up, I decided to call him Pecky.

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Why Foreign TV Series Are So Enjoyable: The Sex Is Better

Valkyrein
Valkyrien (image: Channel 4)

Also, the trajectory of the story is never obvious, as in the latest new Scandi-noir on Channel 4’s Walter Presents, Valkyrien.

Valkyrien (C4, Sunday) is the hot new Scandi-noir series, which is being billed as Norway’s answer to Breaking Bad. In this case, the anti-hero having his mid-life crisis is a brilliant surgeon called Ravn (Sven Nordin). He has become disenchanted with The System because the fancy hospital where he works won’t let him use the potentially life-saving treatment he has devised on his dying wife. (It might kill her, they say — which Ravn, quite understandably, considers a ridiculous, faux-ethical excuse.) So off he goes to sulk in his Batcave — a disused nuclear bomb shelter, accessible via an underground station — for what will no doubt be a series of clandestine medical adventures, using equipment he has nicked from his old lab.

Ravn’s Jesse-style sidekick Leif (Pal Sverre Hagen) works for Norway’s civil defence unit — risk-assessing all the things that might bring the world to an end. It’s the perfect job because. . . .

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Netflix Is Great Because (Unlike the BBC) It Doesn’t Ram Its Politics Down Your Throat

Its documentary Daughters of Destiny, about a remarkable free school for India’s untouchables, doesn’t steer you to any conclusions but lets you think for yourself.

Netflix
Daughters of Destiny (image: Netflix)

All this week I have been trying, with considerable success, to avoid being bludgeoned by TV programmes telling me in various sensitive and imaginative ways just how brilliant, heroic and historically maligned homosexual men are. I achieved this by sticking to Netflix.

One of the great things about Netflix (whose annual subscription costs just half the BBC licence fee, by the way) is that though it’s probably run by lefties it doesn’t try to ram its politics down your throat. Maybe this is one reason why its 100 million-plus subscribers are so much less resentful than BBC viewers: they’re being offered choice, variety, entertainment — not worthiness, race, gender quotas and compulsory indoctrination.

This week Netflix helped me catch up — under Girl’s instruction — with an addictively trashy series from 2012 about spoilt rich kids in New York called Gossip Girl; and also with a gripping documentary series — Captive — about how horrible it is being taken hostage. Best of all, though, was Daughters of Destiny — a four-part series telling the delightful true story of the Shanti Bhavan school in India’s Tamil Nadu province.

Read the rest in the Spectator.

Justine Greening’s Idiotic Gender Policy Shows It’s Time to Give Up on Toryism

Justine Greening (image: Getty)
Getty

The Conservatives are now so ideologically enfeebled they are quite beyond the point of redemption.

I’ve had it with the Conservatives. For me, and I know I’m not the only one, the final straw was the announcement at the weekend that the Equalities Minister Justine Greening wants to change the law so that people are free to specify their gender on their birth certificate regardless of medical opinion. What were they thinking, Greening and the various senior party bods who supported this decision, including, apparently, the Prime Minister? Actually, I think we can guess. They were thinking: ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn. His young followers seem to like this LBGBLT — how do the initials go again? — malarkey so perhaps we’d better get with it too.’ And: ‘Nasty party detox. Just like gay marriage did, this will help rid us of all those ghastly reactionary grassroots supporters who are ruining our image.’ And: ‘Compassion. We need to show compassion to oppressed minorities because that’s the kind thing to do.’The Conservatives are now so ideologically enfeebled they are quite beyond the point of redemption.

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Game of Thrones Should Have at Least Arranged for Ed Sheeran to Be Stabbed

The latest Sky Atlantic series has been invaded by something more terrifying and insidious even than the White Walkers: feminism.

Misandei from Game of Thrones (image: HBO)

I’m a bit worried about Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic). Not seriously worried: there’s too much money invested, too much narrative hinterland accrued, too much fan-loyalty not to frustrate, too engaging a cast, too brilliant an original conception for the makers to cock it up too badly.

Nevertheless, there were a couple of things that troubled me about the first episode of season seven. One: Ed Sheeran. He’s not the first pop star to make a cameo appearance in Thrones — that honour fell a while back to purveyors of epic, weirdy-warbly, Icelandic whale-music-rock, Sigur Ros — but he’s definitely the most obtrusive.

When Sigur Ros did it, no sooner had they started singing than they were driven offstage by a hail of coins from an unimpressed King Joffrey. With Ed Sheeran, on the other hand, we had to endure a full scene of him sitting there in the woods, being amiable Ed Sheeran with his ginger Ed Sheeran hair singing an Ed Sheeran-style song and being himself. And you just sat there thinking: ‘Here I am watching Ed Sheeran doing a cameo in Game of Thrones.’ Surely the very least they could have arranged is for him to have been stabbed, or something?

Read the rest at the Spectator.