Cinderella – Simply DVD Review

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Nick Dear’s reimagining of Cinderella relocates the story to mid twentieth century Britain. Young Zezolla (Marcella Plunkett) tangles with her new stepmother, Claudette (Kathleen Turner), an evil woman who has the unsuspecting Martin (David Warner) firmly in her grasp.

Zezolla, nicknamed Cinderella after she’s given the task of stoking the coal boilers of her father’s sprawling mansion, also has to contend with Claudette’s two scheming sisters – Goneril and Regan (Katrin Cartlidge and Lucy Punch) A fairy godmother would be handy, but surely that would be expecting too much …

Whilst Cinderella draws much of its inspiration from the original fairy tale, it also delights in mixing and matching elements from various other stories. King Lear is an obvious inspiration – the names of Claudette’s daughters and the way that Zezolla becomes estranged from her father (in true Lear style) are the most obvious nods.

Kathleen Turner adds a touch of Hollywood glamour to the production. Bedecked in a series of eye-catching costumes, Claudette is depicted as a top class schemer. Although briefly disappointed when she discovers that her new husband might be aristocratic but is also pretty much broke, she soon recovers. Once she’s managed to dispose of him (poison should do the trick) she’ll be free to remarry and if one of her daughters could snag a young and handsome Prince, all the better ….

Karen Cartlidge and Lucy Punch as Goneril and Regan are a hoot. Just as wicked and narcissistically self-obsessed as their mother, they delight in taunting their new, downtrodden sister-in-law. An early scene, where the pair – cavorting on their bed in stockings – ponder whether they should corrupt the innocent Zezolla is nicely done.

As for Zezolla – or Cinderella as she becomes known – she’s deftly brought to life by Marcella Plunkett. Although this was an early screen credit for Plunkett, she doesn’t seem at all fazed by sharing the screen with vastly more experienced actors.

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The casting for Cinderella was very strong. David Warner has a tricky job as Martin (it’s difficult to believe that anybody could be quite as dim and trusting as he is) but Warner’s a class actor who just about gets away with it. Leslie Phillips has a nice role as Felim, Martin’s faithful family retainer. Although it does seem a bit harsh that a man as old as he is has been given the job of stoking the boilers ….

Felim acts as Cinderella’s confidant, which is perfect casting for Phillips who twinkles away very appealingly. When advising her about the pleasures and pitfalls of love, he lets slip that he has form in this matter – most notably Mab (Jane Birkin).

Another strong addition to the cast, Mab occupies the role of Cinderella’s fairy godmother, although she – like a great deal of the story – is far removed from the traditional image. Living in an underground cave, Mab’s delightfully disconnected (telling Cinders at one point that she can’t rustle her up a pair of shoes – she never bothers with them herself since shoes are only for people who don’t like the look of their feet). Several other familiar faces pass by later on, such as Sharon Maughan, Michael Medwin, Nickolas Grace and Jenny Tomasin.

Prince Valliant (Gideon Turner) enters the picture mid-way through. An unconventional Prince Charming, he’s portrayed as a bored and idle lounger. I’m not sure whether Turner’s playing is supposed to be off-kilter or if it was just a case of bad acting. I suspect the former, and this thought was strengthened by the memorable moment when the Prince elects to serenade the alluring Cinderella with a rock song and an energetic guitar solo. He does later roam the Kingdom (albeit on a motorbike) with a slipper, looking for a foot that will fit it – so at least in that instance he does conform to the traditional story.

With a woozy, non-naturalistic feel, Cinderella doesn’t outstay its welcome at 83 minutes. It may be fairly short, but is decidedly sweet and – thanks to the first-rate cast – is something of a treat. Recommended.

Cinderella is released on the 21st of May 2018 by Simply Media, RRP £14.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Love on a Branch Line – Second Sight DVD Review

7457The year is 1957 and civil servant Jasper Pye (Michael Maloney) is stuck in a rut.  When his girlfriend mentions to a fellow party guest that he’s something of a bore, Jasper decides to take immediate action.  But his initial plan – to move to France and become a painter – is shelved after his superiors send him deep into the English countryside.

Since 1940, a small outpost of the Ministry of Information (Output Statistics) has been in residence at Arcady Hall.  Jasper is sent with the express mission of discovering a reason to close it down, but he finds himself constantly distracted.

The delightfully eccentric Lord Flamborough (Leslie Phillips), owner of Arcady Hall, is happy with the status quo – especially since the upkeep of his house depends on the subsidies he receives from a benevolent government.   Lady Flamborough (Maria Aitken) intrigues Jasper, but it’s Flamborough’s three daughters – Belinda (Abigail Cruttenden), Chloe (Cathryn Harrison) and Matilda (Charlotte Williams) – who all manage to bewitch him at different times …..

Based on John Hadfield’s 1957 novel, Love on a Branch Line is a serial which simply oozes class.  Adapted by David Nobbs (The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin) it has the sort of cast to die for.  Leslie Phillips looks to be enjoying himself enormously as Lord Flamborough, an idiosyncratic aristrocrat who, along with his wife, lives on a train at the defunct local station. He bought the station, track and train and he now indulges himself by travelling backwards and forwards.  That he never actually goes anywhere might be a not-so-subtle metaphor.

There’s no doubt that the serial’s appeal rests with the quintessentially English atmosphere it generates even if, as with the best examples of the genre (such as PG Wodehouse), events are clearly taking place in an idealised and stylised England that never was.  Therefore steam trains, cricket matches and village fetes are all very much to the fore.

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Charlotte Williams, Michael Maloney, Cathryn Harrison and (front) Abigail Cruttenden

When Jasper arrives he suspects that the team at the Statistics outpost, having been left to their own devices for so long, might be somewhat behind with their work.  Both the statistician Professor Pollux (Graham Crowden) and the data collector Quirk (Stephen Moore) have found numerous distractions over the years – Pollux has been researching the history of Arcady whilst cricket is Quirk’s passion.  Luckily for both of them, they have the efficient Miss Mounsey (Amanda Root) on hand to keep them in some sort of order.  Crowden and Moore are great value with Crowden (arch scene-stealer that he was) never failing to entertain every time he sidles onto screen.

Belinda (“the wicked one”) is the first of Lord Flamborough’s daughters encountered by Jasper. Within a few minutes she’s already kissed him, although this unexpected moment of pleasure is short-lived after Lady Flamborough interrupts them. As so often throughout the serial Michael Maloney’s comic timing is spot on (he delightfully leaps back in horror after Lady Flamborough calls out).

Matilda, the youngest daughter, is neatly summed up by her mother. “Funny girl. She spends all her time reading old-fashioned thrillers and wating to be seduced by a sinister monk. She’ll grow out of it”. Chole, the eldest, is plainly the apple of her father’s eye (“she’s a damn good engine driver”).  A later encounter at the pub with the drunken Lionel Virley (David Haig), husband to Chole, puts another piece of the jigsaw in place. Also there is railway enthusiast Mr Jones (the always entertaining Joe Melia).

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Charlotte Williams

Jasper quickly becomes a part of the local cricket team and is also drafted onto the local fete’s organising committee. That the fete is in aid of fallen women is something which has endless comic potential. Lord Flamborough declines to be chairman.  “I never could be trusted with fallen women”.  This line is delivered in the trademark Leslie Philips style.

By the end of the first episode Jasper’s been kissed by all three daughters and is somewhat perplexed by his experiences. He continues to ping between them like a pinball as the rest of the serial plays out.

A lovely comic moment occurs in episode two after Belinda decides that Jasper’s proposed painting of the Hall doesn’t sound terribly interesting. Surely he’d much prefer to paint her in the nude? Belinda’s very keen and Jasper doesn’t take too much persuading either (although he valiantly attempts to keep his mind on his art). Although he does wonder if they should ask Lady Flamborough’s permission so Belinda, stripped to the waist, casually leans out of the window and shouts down to her!

Further complications ensue when Pollux turns up with Miss Tidy (Gillian Rayne). Pollux is giving her a guided tour of the Hall and his desire to show her every nook and cranny means that Belinda is forced to beat a hasty retreat. The vision of a fully-frontal nude Abigail Cruttenden, albiet in long shot, was a slight surprise (I wonder what the original Sunday evening audience made of it?)

The sight of a desperate Jasper – convinced that Lord Flamborough knows about his dalliances with his daughters – dancing the Charleston whilst his Lordship tunelessly bashes away on the drums is another stand-out scene. Maloney cuts some impressive moves whilst Phillips is his usual louche self.

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Leslie Phillips, Abigail Cruttenden, Maria Aitken, Michael Maloney & Cathryn Harrison

The big cricket match occurs in the third episode. Unfortunately, Jasper and Lionel are locked in one of Arcady’s wine cellars with only several thousand bottles for company. Few actors can resist a spot of drunk acting and Michael Maloney and David Haig are certainly no exception as Jasper and Lionel take solace in some of the more obscure vintages.  Carrot whisky anyone?

Things look grim for the village since their two best batsman have failed to appear but – improbable as it may sound – Jasper and Lionel do eventually stagger up to the crease. But will they be able to save the day? The cricket match is another entertaining setpiece sequence, as is the aftermath (everybody crowds into the pub for a hearty rendition of Yes, We Have No Bananas).

Love on a Branch Line has a delicate path to tread regarding tone.  It would be easy for Jasper to appear as little more than a letch  – after all, he’s already seduced (or been seduced by) Belinda and Chloe and when the sweetly virginal Matilda comes crashing down his bedroom chimney it seems that his cup runneth over.  Luckily, the unreal tone of the serial – and Michael Maloney’s skilful playing – ensures this is never too much of a problem.

The concluding episode promises to bring a dash of reality to the Shangri La of Arcady.  Jasper’s recommendation that the Statistical Unit be closed down forthwith doesn’t please either Lord Flamborough or Pollux and the arrival of jazz musician Ozzie Tipton (Simon Gregor) seems to turn Belinda’s head.  But Jasper – pressganged into becoming a judge at the Fallen Women fete – might just have secured his own future after he awards first prize in the prettiest ankle contest to Miss Mounsey.

In the end everything turns out fine for everybody and as the credits roll you can be assured that the sun at Arcady will always continue to shine (just as it will at Blandings Castle).

With an experienced cast of comic hands, beautiful locations and a sharp script from David Nobbs, Love on a Branch Line is a treat from start to finish.  Abigail Cruttenden, Cathryn Harrison and Charlotte Williams all catch the eye (although it’s Abigail Cruttenden that we definitely see the most of) whilst Michael Maloney, as the lucky Jasper, reels from one unlikely encounter to the next with aplomb.

Originally released on DVD by Acorn back in 2006, it’s now been brought back into print by Second Sight.  It comprises of four 50 minute episodes and whilst there are no additional features, the episodes are subtitled.

Something of a forgotten gem, this really is something that any devotee of British archive television should have in their collection.  Highly recommended.

Love on a Branch Line is released by Second Sight on the 17th of July 2017.  RRP £15.99.

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Michael Maloney

H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man – Blind Justice

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A friend of Brady’s, airline pilot Arthur Holt (Philip Friend), is convinced that his plane is being used for drug smuggling.  His co-pilot Sandy Mason (Jack Watling) is implicated in the smuggling ring and frames Arthur.  Before Arthur can tell the authorities all he knows about the smugglers, he’s shot – with the only witness to his attempted murder being his blind wife, Katherine (Honor Blackman).

A generous amount of the story – the first five minutes – is used to set everything up.  It’s pretty evident right from the start that Arthur is honest whilst Sandy has something to hide (Watling ensures that Sandy looks more than a little shifty).

Jack Watling, father of Invisible Man co-star Deborah, had form for appearing in series which featured his daughter (Doctor Who being the other notable example).  He’s just one member of a very strong cast who help to enliven this story.  Honor Blackman, a few years away from finding fame as Cathy Gale in The Avengers, is another but it’s Leslie Phillips as the cold-hearted Sparrow who makes the most vivid impression.

More used to playing comedy, Phillips plays it dead straight as the well-spoken “Cock” Sparrow, who calls at Arthur’s house, claiming to be a friend of his.  But when Arthur turns up, he shoots him and makes a swift exit.  Did Sparrow know that Katherine was blind and would therefore struggle to describe him?  Even if he did, it seems a little foolhardy to have struck up a conversation with her, as proves to be key in bringing him to justice.

Robert Raglan plays Detective Inspector Heath, yet another police officer completely unfazed at the prospect of receiving assistance from an invisible man, whilst the very recognisable Desmond Llewelyn hovers in the background as his sergeant.

Blind Justice (ah, do you see what they did there?) makes few calls on Brady’s special power until the last few minutes – as Brady convinces Katherine to pretend she can see (and helps her along the way)  so that she can walk up to Sparrow and convince him that she saw him shoot her husband.  Brady hopes that this will break his nerve and make him confess all.

A fairly routine crime story then, but the London location filming and the incredibly impressive guest cast (especially Honor Blackman and Leslie Phillips) are more than adequate compensation.

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