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The Bletchley Circle was one of the best dramas on TV when it premiered in 2014. Its premise was simple — in the years after WWII, a group of women who worked together during the war come together to solve crimes. But these are not just any women.
They worked for the British Secret Service (at its super secret Bletchley Circle HQ) to break the German codes during the war, saving untold lives. Thrust back into civilian life, the women are forced to take those menial jobs that were "suitable for women” after the war. There are a smattering of female sleuths on various TV shows, but rarely has it given a group of intelligent women a series of their own. Until The Bletchley Circle.
The Bletchley Circle begins when Susan (Anna Maxwell Martin), a typical early 1950s housewife with two children, sees a pattern in a series of gruesome murders of women. She solicits the help of her former distaff code-breakers, and they discover that a serial killer is on the loose and has been killing women for many years. The police refuse to believe in the serial killer scenario and instead treat each murder as a separate event. The killer has been very smart in setting up a patsy for every murder.
The series is brilliantly written by Guy Burt, an English novelist and veteran TV writer. The characters he has created are unforgettable, not only because of their unique talents, but also for their refusal to give up what they do best — solve mysteries.
Susan's husband is dismissive of her intellectual pursuits — he is always surprised at how readily she does the Times’s crossword puzzle, regarding it as a freak talent. Lucy (Sophie Rundle)'s physically abusive husband doesn't know why his wife can remember the minutest detail of every newspaper story she reads, not realizing she has a photographic memory. Millie (Rachael Stirling), a brilliant linguist, leads a bohemian life, stuck in low paying “women’s jobs” such as waiting tables. Jean (Julie Graham), the oldest, keeps everyone in line; she has no private life at all and spends most of her time at the library she runs.
In their personal lives, none of them can tell their family and friends what they did during the war because, in England, the Official Secrets Act prevents any disclosure of clandestine activities — and this law is not subject to judicial review, so if you break it, you do not pass go, you go straight to jail. Separately, they have woven their lives into the drab quilt that was post-WWII England. Together, they blossom into one of the best vigilante groups of all time.
Each of the stories begins with a small commitment on their part to figure out the puzzle of some crime — it is just an intellectual exercise like breaking a code. Soon, they are forced to get directly involved in order to prevent an injustice or solve a crime, bringing them closer to the danger that they only read about during their code-breaking days.
Ultimately, the series is not about the crimes being solved but rather the true identities of these extraordinary women. Each of them is forced to live a lie, pretending to be the helpless, hapless stereotypes that the male-dominated society of the time forced them to play.The secrets they are forced to keep, including the most damaging one — who they truly are — eventually poison their personal lives. Only the strongest survive that self-betrayal.
In the end, Bletchley Circle does what all great crime dramas do, revealing more about the crime detectors and their world than the criminals and how they are caught.
And then it was cancelled.
Incredibly, its producers, ITV, a commercial public service television network in the United Kingdom, decided not to continue the series even though the third season had already been written. No reason was given for the cancellation.
Is it a coincidence that, in an entertainment industry more and more dominated by movies and TV shows geared to teenage males, a show about a group of adult, intelligent, resourceful women, who show up their male counterparts by combining their unique talents, gets canceled?
No, it wasn't. Until now.
IT IS COMING BACK!
The world has changed because courageous actresses outed a producer pig who used a casting hotel room to prove to himself how powerful he was - hey, he was a pervert not a blind pervert. He knew none of those actresses were coming to his room because of his good looks.
And so ITV sees a chance to jump into the #wetoo movement,but who cares about reasons - Bletchley Circle is back. Sort of.
Two of the original characters,Millie and Jean, travel to San Francisco and join forces with American female code breakers to solve crimes. The migrating women are the characters without a family. We can only hope that the new series will not discard the context of the original, a world in which men dominated every aspect of society. For example,take look at the New York Philharmonic in the mid-1950s. No females (except on harp, the female instrument).
BRITBOX is the commercial arm of BBC so it will only be available for a fee.
ORIGINAL SERIES AVAILABLE NOW ON NETFLIX
CAST:Julie Graham , Rachael Stirling, Anna Maxwell Martin and Sophie Rundle
CREATED BY: GUY BART
Netflix’s House of Cards (Season One)
Netflix has produced a real original series with real stars – Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright portraying a US Congress Majority Whip, Francis Underwood, and his non-profit CEO wife, Claire.
Original may not be the best choice of words – House of Cards is based on a BBC show of the same name staring Ian Richardson as Felix Urquhart (known as FU), a British MP Majority Whip who lies, cheats and murders his way to the top, supplanting a weak Prime Minister, a man FU describes as having ‘no bottom.’
The Netflix version shares many plot points with its British ancestor:
-Underwood gets screwed out of a top cabinet post by an ungrateful newly elected President.
-He plots his revenge with his beautiful and just as cunning wife.
- He and his wife are childless, devoting all of their time and talents to their ambitions.
- He uses a novice daughter-surrogate reporter (with whom he has an incestuous relationship) to get out his duplicitous messages.
- He has a no-questions-asked staffer-fixer named Stamper – as in, he stamps whatever his boss wants done.
- He speaks his innermost thoughts directly to the audience (in the BBC version, this is much more effective as FU re-cycles many of the great lines from Macbeth, the template for both versions of the story).
- He uses a weak-willed underling (who has a loving, lovely assistant) to do his dastardly deeds and
- He has a wife who does not breakdown when the going gets tough but rather screws her courage to the sticking place.
This is the show that started 'binge-watching.'
It’s worth it. The acting is top-notch, the shows production values are evident, the directing is good and the writing, while lacking sense and punch at times, is better than most TV shows – or movies.
House of Cards is just good enough to make you wish it were better.
The problem is that this deck is stacked. It suffers from the age-old problem that all American TV shows about politics suffer – lack of cujones.
In the Brit series, the main character is a wealthy Scot who is firmly in the right-wing of the right-of-center Tory party. He wants to become PM in part to feed his ambition, but also to complete the work that Thatcher began. He believes that England was made by and for the merchant-adventurer. His rise to the top is helped by a crass media mogul who expects in return that FU will let loose the dogs of unbridled free market economics. FU’s style of governing is rooted in his belief that the UK needs firm leadership and as his country’s ‘daddy’ he will put a bit of stick about to get things done – the right way.
In the Netflix House of Cards, Spacey gives his usual restrained pitch perfect performance, this time with the same southern drawl he used in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. While his character is more than willing to put a bit of stick about to get what he wants, he stands for nothing. The Netflix House of Cards can never figure out what they want Underwood to fight for other than his ambition. Maybe that was a choice – what do these guys we elect stand for when you get right down to it, other than their own ambitions?
In the opening episodes, Underwood proves his worth to the President by ushering through Congress an education bill – really? That’s as controversial as you can get? OK, so it’s an education bill opposed by the teachers’ unions because it has some teacher evaluation standards. In order to pass it, Spacey goes toe to toe with a teacher’s union lobbyist who is undone by his hot Italian temper. I was waiting for the alcoholic Irish ward leader and the womanizing French ambassador to make an appearance.
While the Netflix House of Cards touches many pressure points in the American political system, it rarely does so with enough muscle behind it to make us feel the pain of our deteriorating body politic.
In one episode, a former staffer turned lawyer-lobbyist (now that’s an all-too-true cliché) who represents a huge energy conglomerate offers a seven figure ‘donation’ to the non-profit run by Claire Underwood. Her husband cautions her to refuse it, worried about the undue influence the donor will seek in repayment. Mr. Underwood pontificates that money is not the same as power: “Money is the McMansion in Sarasota that starts falling apart after 10 years. Power is the old stone building that stands for centuries.”
But most American pols take the money even if real power eludes them. Just glance at the bios of those in Congress. Most start out firmly rooted in the middle class – living paycheck to paycheck. Then they get elected and go through a wonderful Tunnel of Money. Somehow, they emerge golden, having sloughed off their tin cocoon. Not all. Some leave office with nothing more than when they entered it, except for the generous pension and benefits.
In another episode, Underwood is pressuring two ‘liberal’ congressmen to vote for a Clean Water Bill that is more about creating jobs than saving the environment. The congressmen think the bill too weak to accomplish any real good and want to defeat it, hoping to pass a better bill in the future. The message is that liberal congressmen are unwilling to compromise their principles even if it means tanking an important Democratic initiative. One word kept popping into my head – Obamacare.
In some episodes, the errant details are all too obvious. An up and coming Congressman, Pete Russo, goes home to South Philadelphia to mend fences after he has done nothing to save the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard (actually, it closed in 1995 and every local called it ‘the Navy Yard’). Underwood, for his own reasons, needed the Yard to close and so he threatened to expose Russo’s penchant for cocaine and prostitutes (they always seem to go together in fiction) to get him to lie down for the Navy Yard’s closure. As Russo walks up to a row house, we hear a lonely train whistle in the background – you know, lower middle class neighborhood so it must be close to the train tracks. OK, maybe it’s Two Street. A few minutes later, another house in South Philly and another train whistle, then another row house and another train whistle. Born and raised in South Philly, I can tell you that there are no train whistles echoing down the narrow side streets at 10th and Snyder. Car horns, yes. Gunshots, sometimes. Train whistles, no.
The most interesting character in the series is Claire Underwood, played to perfection by Robin Wright. She has an affair with a Byron-esq Manhattan photographer, and contemplates a life lived purely for the fun of it. But she is firmly rooted in the world of power and corruption. In one telling scene, she visits a member of the security team who guarded the Underwoods for many years. He is on his death bed and confesses to her a long-held deep hatred of her husband for having what he could never have - her. Claire tells him that many men wanted her and that she accepted her husband’s marriage proposal because he was the only one who offered her what she wanted - not happiness, but success and power. You have to take what you want. Then she places her hand under the sheet that covers his dying body. It’s a gesture at once both merciful and pitiless.
House of Cards comes to an abrupt conclusion at Episode 13, but Netflix ordered 26 Episodes so the story of Francis and Claire Underwood is far from finished. Let’s hope that the next episodes add some heft to a colorful but somewhat tepid view of American politics from the inside.
TEN TV SHOWS TO BINGE WATCH ON NETFLIX AND IMPRESS YOUR FRIENDS WITH
With the rise of Netflix, the way in which we watch TV shows has changed. No longer must we await the weekly release of a new episode of a show we are watching. Now, we can watch as many episodes of the show as our free time can hold. Bleary-eyed, the next morning, we tell our friends, family or co-workers that, yes, we had stayed up late, but such and such a show was worth it. Our viewing now 'spans the globe' as they use to say on Wide World of Sports. And so here is our list of ten Netflix TV shows that should carry a warning label: BEWARE, THESE SHOWS CAN BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR SLEEP AND CAN BECOME ADDICTIVE.
1. RITA - 4 SEASONS OF 8 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 40 MIN LONG SUBTITLES
A Swedish school teacher has both personal and professional problems, but she is the teacher you wished you had. No guns, no chases - just a good TV show about life, you know, the stuff that happens while you're busy making plans.
2. HOUSE OF CARDS - 3 SEASONS OF 4 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 50 MIN LONG BRITISH
A leader of the conservative party decides to become the prime minister by any means necessary. This is the show that the Netflix HOC is based on - but is so much better than its offspring.
3. MONEY HEIST - 2 SEASONS OF 9 AND 10 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 45 MIN LONG SUBTITLES
A group of criminals in Spain is gathered by a "professor' to pull off the heist of a lifetime - from the Spanish Mint. Of course, things go wrong and, so, we have drama!
4. THE FALL - 3 SEASONS OF 6 EPISODES EACH 60 MIN LONG BRITISH
Gillian Anderson and James Dorman give us 100 shades of creepy in this crime drama about - what else, a serial killer. But this is one of the best of that genre.
5. BABYLON BERLIN - 1 SEASON OF 16 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 50 MIN LONG SUBTITLES
Germany, 1929. A new cop in town is breaking up the old gang, but we know what it all leads to - and it ain't good. This is one hellava show and even the music is addictive.
6. MINDHUNTER - 1 SEASON OF 10 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 50 MINUTES
The FBI, 1977, and a new kind of killer is out there. The FBI has to adapt and figure out how to catch killers who are smarter than your average nuclear physicist..
7. SUBURRA, BLOOD ON ROME - 1 SEASON OF 8 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 45 MINUTES SUBTITLES
The Mob is fighting to control the port of Rome and the casino planned for the area.
8. MARSEILLE - 2 SEASONS OF 8 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 40 MINUTES SUBTITLES
The story of modern urban problems set in southern France starring Gerard Depardieu
9. EPISODES - 5 SEASONS OF 7 EPISODES EACH ABOUT 30 MINUTES
A British couple bring their hit British TV show to Hollywood and changes are made - to the show and to the them.
10. AND NOW THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO TELL US ABOUT THE NETFLIX SHOW WORTHY OF BINGE WATCHING. GIVE US OUR TENTH SHOW.
WESTWORLD OR HOW I STOPPED WORRYING AND LEARNED HOW TO LOVE ANDROIDS
In 1973, Michael Crichton wrote and directed Westworld, a movie about an amusement park in the future where the androids who were built to give people a real Western movie experience, suddenly rebelled. A few years later, a TV series called Beyond Westworld was made based on this premise.
The movie was a mild hit, but the TV show was cancelled after just five episodes.
In 2016, HBO made a new TV series based on this premise. Westworld is an amusement park where wealthy guests pay to live out their wildest fantasies. Set in the old West of Hollywood movies, the good guys wear whites hats and the bad, blackl. The 'hosts' are all androids who look and act as humans - except, they can never harm or kill any guest. The hosts are given elaborate back stories, often requiring them to find someone or some place. Meanwhile, the guests are as good or as bad as they want to be. With no restraints on their behavior, guests can kill, rape, impede or help the hosts. As one human character says, you find out who you really are.
The first season of Westworld was the set-up. Various guests come to the park for various reasons and we see the hosts being programmed and recharged by the management that runs the park. The drama is injected into the show by the fact that the original creators and investors have different views on how this unique business should grow.
In its second season, Westworld aims for a higher dramatic arc:what does it mean to be human? What does it mean to love, to care for, to imagine, to be free?
The androids have rebelled. Delores is an android who gave to the guests in the first season the feelings they yearned for - gentleness, innocence, kindness, beauty. In the second season, she has turned on the guests and the management - she has become free and, like so many free humans, has chosen to revenge those who had so callously manipulated her. Now, she is a killing machine, willing to do whatever it takes to break free into the 'real' world.
All of the emotions we think of as truly human are questioned. Delores' lover, an android character, is reminded by a human manager that he was built to love someone else; he responds that what he felt for this other woman was 'just words in my head.' And what is love? Is it more than just words in your head? Feelings? What are they if not a way to react to the world or to a person with something that has been programmed inside of us?
Westworld has elaborate plots, complicated characters, incredible sets and costumes - but in the end it is a TV show about soul. What is it and who has it? As its characters search the depths of the human experience, there are battles, shootouts, excursions into other 'worlds' (such as Empire world that takes place in British Raj India) and flashbacks to the origins of these virtual worlds. Lots of blood, nudity (the androids aren't real, so it's just like seeing a naked doll, right?) philosophising about the nature of being human and some real drama. You may like it if you liked Lost or Star Trek or existential philosophy. Or John Ford movies.