THAT WAS THE BOX – April 2014 (Week Four)

TV REVIEW: JAMAICA INN (Jessica Brown Findlay) - BBC1


Well. If there is a contender for most boring programme of 2014, then at the moment ‘Jamaica Inn‘ is in the running to win the title. Much has been made of the sound problems that plagued the shows as they were broadcast which made the characters sound as though they were mumbling. Well to me, those people who stopped watching were lucky. This adaptation of a Daphne Du Maurier’s tale of smuggling in the early nineteenth century held great premise and looked beautiful in the way it was filmed, but my god, it could have been done in one ninety minute episode. I will start with the cast. Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil from ‘Downton Abbey‘) played Mary Yellen (yes, say it quickly and it does sound like a character from ‘The Waltons‘) the orphan who goes to live with her aunt Patience and Uncle Joss in creepy Jamaica Inn – the local meeting point for the smugglers who populate the town. Brown Findlay is a fine-looking girl – to me always the prettiest of the Crawley sisters – but most of the time in ‘Jamaica Inn‘, she looked as though she was falling asleep. Maybe it was because of the stupefying scripts.

Sean Harris played Uncle Joss. I can honestly say I have never seen Harris play anything but psychopaths, but he does it so well. Except all the time in ‘Jamaica Inn‘  he sounded like Marlon Brando in ‘The Godfather‘ doing a West Country accent!

Then we had Joanne Whalley as Aunt Patience. I’m not sure what was wrong with her hair, but either it was a wig that looked like a dye job or else it was her own hair dyed a sort of red colour. Either way it looked unnatural and anachronistic. She looked far too modern. Matthew McNaulty played love interest Jem MerlynJoss‘s hunky brother. McNulty probably gave the most convincing performance out of the whole cast. And in fear of sounding a bit ‘luvvyish’, one got the feeling he actually inhabited his character rather than just acting out words. Trouble was – and maybe that was just me – I felt more sexual tension between Mary and scary Uncle Joss than I ever did her and Jem. I’ve never read the book but I would have thought a young innocent girl would be terrified of her imposing uncle who beats her aunt and killed a man before her eyes. Instead Brown Findlay seemed to smoulder every time Harris pushed her up against the wall or pulled her around!

Next is the action – or lack of. Years ago, adaptations of classic books usually span out over about ten or twelve weeks, with very little happening in each episode, but because the scriptwriter stuck closely to the book there would be lots of words and so the episode would feel full of action. ‘Jamaica Inn‘ was full of long lingering shots of the landscape or else Mary silently processing something in her mind. I can’t help but wonder if it would have benefited from being adapted by Andrew Davies, who has adapted many classic books like Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice and even Tipping the Velvet. Davies‘ lively scripts normally give heart to the story and maybe if he’d done it, I’d have warmed to Mary a bit more.

By the end I truly didn’t care what happened to her. I’d also like someone to let me know if I’m right in thinking Customs didn’t exist in 182,1 and at one point Mary shouts out ‘he’s got a gun’. Perhaps I’m being a pedant but I thought back in those days it would have been referred to as a pistol or a musket. Maybe I’m wrong. This era is not my speciality. But watching telly is. And this was certainly below par.


TV REVIEW: Britains Favourite Detectives - Channel 5


This Channel 5 show was good old-fashioned bank holiday telly, where you can sit back and enjoy watching old clips of shows you’d long since forgotten. I’m not sure who voted in this, or indeed if there was even a vote, but who cares? It was great seeing Jason King, looking like Austin Powers’ creepy uncle. Van der Valk, who will mean nothing to anyone under the age of forty, and a clip of Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall‘, where she looked spookily like Katie Hopkins (poor cow). I also enjoy the vox pops from people whose names mean absolutely nothing to me and I think their job is actually to appear on programmes like this. It makes me laugh how they seem to remember every single programme and the most obscure details of it, and we’re supposed to believe they haven’t been prompted. But please can we leave Emma B off next time? That woman is so annoying. She’s like something from a sketch show lampooning shows like this.

I am disgusted that Jack Regan from ‘The Sweeney‘ wasn’t in the top ten. Just how Agatha Christie defined the way we view whodunits, and Sherlock Holmes (who won the poll btw) was the father of modern forensics (no Sherly no CSI), surely ‘The Sweeney‘ ushered in the age of gritty police procedurals. Regan was a hard-drinking womaniser who was handy with his fists. The show highlighted the internal wranglings and battles within the Metropolitan Police, and without ‘The Sweeney‘, we would never have had ‘The Bill‘, ‘Life on Mars‘, ‘Inspector Banks‘ or ‘The Vice‘. The list is endless….

Biggest revelation to me was just how gorgeous Pierce Brosnan was when he was really young. I never watched ‘Remington Steele‘. But I might have to look it up on YouTube.


TV REVIEW: Business Boomers - Amazons Retail Revolution (BBC2)


We all buy from Amazon right? (well, except one of my friends who doesn’t own a computer and is indeed convinced they will all blow up one day and it will be Armageddon – true story) But did you have any idea what sort of company they are? Started in a garage by a man called Jeff Bezos in 1995, Amazon is now worth billions of dollars and yet never make a profit (no, I don’t understand that either). Bezos is a truly terrifying man with a laugh to rival Vincent Price’s at the end of Thriller and a smile that never reaches his dark, scary eyes. There is nothing of the hippy dippy ethos of Steve Jobs with Bezos, or even the geeky Bill Gates. Bezos is the Simon Cowell of online-retailing. Everywhere he goes, he sees dollar signs, and just how Cowell would like to one day own the whole of television and determine everything we watch, so Bezos wants to control what we buy. In America there are even Amazon Groceries now and we met one family who buy all their goods – food included – from Amazon. Scariest of all, was the attitude of their teenage daughter who preferred buying things online because she didn’t like going to the shops. I thought American teenagers hung out in shopping malls.

My hackles rose when we got round to the subject of Amazon Kindle and how the advent of e-book publishing has made entrepreneurs of authors in a way that has never happened before. We met a British ex-policeman who apparently sold 400,000 copies of his first self published book after writing it in 30 hours and doing ‘a bit of editing.’ Let me set the record straight. For one if you dared to publish a book on-line that had a ‘bit of editing’, you would be torn to shreds within days and have so many 1 star reviews, no one would touch you. Also, we never got to find out how he managed to sell 400,000 copies. Amazon does little to promote self-published authors. You have to do all the promotion yourself. Also, it didn’t point out that as a Brit, you automatically have 30% of all your earnings taken in tax, even though you’re not an American tax payer. Publish with Amazon and they will actively encourage you not to distribute through any other channels and yet they also helpfully don’t pay you your US royalties until you’ve made $100, which they send to you in a cheque, which then has to be converted and you’re lucky if you end up with £50. For me ibooks is a much better platform and indeed where I have made most of my sales.

Anyway, off my soapbox. The programme showed that working for Amazon as a programmer, you get to work in a cool office where everyone sits around with their laptops. It’s not so cosy for the workers who distribute the goods. Who have to walk miles and miles around a warehouse where nothing is stored in order and they have targets to reach or else pay the consequences (and I suspect are probably paid the minimum wage).

I enjoy buying things off Amazon, but this programme made me quite anti about the whole thing and I’ve decided that next time I pass an independent book shop, I’m going to pop in and maybe buy something. Just to show things can still be done the old-fashioned way.


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